NASA scientists have revealed the former "astronomer's planet" and its "intriguing system of small moons" with the help of the New Horizons probe. The findings have been revealed in a set of papers that describe the results from last summer's Pluto system flyby. "These five detailed papers completely transform our view of Pluto -- revealing the former 'astronomer's planet' to be a real world with diverse and active geology, exotic surface chemistry, a complex atmosphere, puzzling interaction with the Sun and an intriguing system of small moons," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said.
It took the New Horizons 9.5 years to make the three-billion-mile journey and reach Pluto on July 14, 2015. The seven science instruments of New Horizons gathered around 50 gigabits of data on the spacecraft's digital recorders, NASA said in a statement.
The New Horizons has taken some pictures revealing a large heart-shaped feature on the surface of Pluto.
"Observing Pluto and Charon up close has caused us to completely reassess thinking on what sort of geological activity can be sustained on isolated planetary bodies in this distant region of the solar system, worlds that formerly had been thought to be relics little changed since the Kuiper Belt's formation," said Jeff Moore, lead author of the geology paper.
"We see variations in the distribution of Pluto's volatile ices that point to fascinating cycles of evaporation and condensation," said Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona, lead author of the composition paper.
"These cycles are a lot richer than those on Earth, where there's really only one material that condenses and evaporates -- water. On Pluto, there are at least three materials, and while they interact in ways we don't yet fully understand, we definitely see their effects all across Pluto's surface."
Scientists discovered the atmosphere of Pluto contains layered hazes above the surface and they are cooler and compact than expected.
Also, the scientists are analysing the first close-up images of small moons of Pluto – Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra. Evidence has been found that some of the moons were forms after the mergers of smaller bodies.