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First close-up pics of Pluto reveal astounding discovery

Pluto Gets Its Closeup As 'Horizons'  Images Arrive On EarthA close-up image of a region near Pluto’s equator shows a range of mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet.  Getty Images

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Mankind’s first close-up look at Pluto did not disappoint Wednesday: The pictures showed ice mountains on Pluto about as high as the Rockies and canyons on its big moon, Charon, that appear deeper than those on Earth.

Especially astounding to scientists was the absence of craters in a zoom-in shot of Pluto, the dwarf planet that hosted its first visitor from Earth on Tuesday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

They said that suggests, to their surprise, that Pluto is geologically active even now and is being sculpted not by outside forces but by internal heat.

The long-awaited images were unveiled Wednesday in Maryland, home to mission operations for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

“I don’t think any one of us could have imagined that it was this good of a toy store,” principal scientist Alan Stern said at a news conference. He marveled: “The Pluto system IS something wonderful.”

Added Lowell Observatory’s Will Grundy: “This is what we came for.”

“This exceeds what we came for,” corrected deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin.


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