Thursday, February 11, 2016

First Detailed Geologic Map of Pluto Released

Pluto’s informally-named Sputnik Planum region is mapped, with the key 
indicating a wide variety of units or terrains. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
I highly enjoy planetary geology and today NASA and the New Horizons team released a fantastic detailed geologic map of the Sputnik Planum region on Pluto. I could seriously sit and analyze the image for hours.

While the variety is obvious to many, its exciting to see a real breakdown of the incredible variety of terrains on Pluto. It truly rivals Mars and even Earth in many ways.

One interesting aspect worth noting is how well the eastern lobe of 'The Heart' feature, is defined as a glacial boundary. It may even be resting on more SP-like terrain, now hidden under hundreds of feet of ices.

Another curiosity is with the distribution of various pitted types of plains and smooth plains. The deepest pitted area is closest to both the southern tip of Sputnik Planum and the cryovolcano, Wright Mons. I would expect a correlation to exist between one of those, but which one isn't necessarily clear.

I will be excitedly awaiting more of these types of products coming from the New Horizons team in the coming months and years. I fully expect a second mission to Pluto to make an appearance in the next decadal survey and I hope it gets the green light. In fact, if I had my way, we'd be shipping a couple Viking-like orbiter/lander reconnaissance and ground research probes by the late 2020s. But if I had my way, we'd also be sending Mariner Mark II (Cassini-like) missions to Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune all in the same time frame. Better a billion spent to learn than a billion to kill.

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