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Pluto's 'heart' has another icy mountain range

Spotted by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, the newly discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be from a half to one mile high, about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains.

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    A second mountain range on Pluto that rises from the dwarf planet's heart-shaped region, nicknamed Tombaugh Regio, is seen in this stunning image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. NASA unveiled the image on July 21.
    NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
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NASA’s New Horizons mission has spotted a second mountain range inside Pluto’s now famous heart.

The image, acquired by New Horizons on July 14 and sent back to the Earth on July 20 shows an apparently less lofty mountain range just west of the region called Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), NASA announced in a statement.

The newly discovered mountain range is inside the Pluto’s best known feature, a 1,200-mile-wide, bright, heart-shaped topographical feature called Tombaugh Regio. The mission team members named the heart after Pluto’s discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh.

The newly discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be from a half to one mile high, which is about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains.

“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”

Dr. Moore said earlier that the feature shown in the image is “a large mountain sitting in a moat” that “has geologists stunned and stumped.”

The image was acquired by New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager from a distance of 48,000 miles. It is one of the images the spacecraft has recently beamed back. The other is the first well-resolved image of Nix, an elongated moon about 25 miles across whose brightness falls midway between that of Pluto and of Charon.

The New Horizons mission represents a completion of a solar-system reconnaissance effort that saw its first success 53 years ago when Mariner 2 conducted a flyby of Venus – the first successful flyby of another planet in human history, The Christian Science Monitor’s Pete Spotts reported.

The $725 million mission was launched in January 2006 to study Pluto’s system. The spacecraft gathered reams of data using seven different science instruments. It will take up to 16 months for New Horizons to send back all of these observations to earth.

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