Formations

Fly over Pluto!

A high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto combining the blue, red and infrared images taken by a Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colors, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds.
Pluto, as captured by the Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera on NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

As one of Earth’s most distant neighbours, the dwarf planet Pluto was only imaged in detail for the first time in 2015. This stunning image was taken by NASA’s New Horizons mission with a camera that enhanced the subtle colours to show Pluto’s complex features. Revealing mountains made of ice, frozen seas and even glaciers on this far-flung icy body, these images allowed scientists to suggest how these familiar yet exotic features formed

Pluto’s peaks

Mountain chains on Earth, such as the Andes of South America, form rocky spines that mark the collision of two tectonic plates, buckling the continent and thrusting rock upwards. Mountain scenes on Pluto, despite looking similar, are created by wildly different mechanisms. Pluto’s mountains are thought to be composed of water-ice, and while this is not unique in the solar system, only Pluto’s temperatures are cold enough to sustain ice with the strength to form mountains several kilometres high.

Scientists think Pluto’s mountains form when denser nitrogen ice fractures Pluto’s icy crust, a process not seen anywhere on Earth. Even the snowy caps of these mountains hide a surprise: they are made of methane.

Panoramic view of the Andes mountain chain, running along the horizon of the Earth from top to bottom of this image - as captured by a NASA satellite.
Panoramic view of the Andes
Credit: NASA/JSC
Mountains of grey jagged nitrogen ice float on polygonal dunes of methane and carbon dioxide on Pluto.
Mountains made of methane ice encircle Pluto’s Sputnik Planitia, a basin on Pluto
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Explore more

A closer look at Pluto – take a flight over Pluto’s icy seas and mountains in this NASA video

Glacier hunting in the Lake District: Take a journey through the lake district and see remnants of glaciers past

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