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Project Investigator Alan Stern says that it looks like snow and tectonics are possible, and the team is going to be assessing the planet’s topography and atmosphere to better understand what’s actually going on in this photo.
In addition, they want to find out why Charon looks so old and “battered” compared to Pluto—is Pluto’s atmosphere simply obscuring its blemishes?
Update, 7/17 at p.m.: NASA released new images of Pluto, depicting an icy plain dubbed “Sputnik Planum” that’s broken up into polygonally-shaped segments bordered by troughs of darker, hilly material.
The team says this landscape—a major source of carbon monoxide—is “hard to explain.” Dark smudges are also sprinkled throughout the photograph, which could be plume deposits—or the result of winds blowing across the ice.
These dark spots are each about 300 miles wide—the size of Missouri.