Orbital View: Pluto's Frozen Plain

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A hauntingly beautiful clip from the Goddard Space Flight Center:

A video posted by NASA Goddard (@nasagoddard) on

From the caption:

Pluto has long been a mystery, a dot at our solar system’s margins. The best images, even with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, were fuzzy and pixelated. In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto and captured the sharpest views of the dwarf planet to date.

One of the most striking areas, informally named “Sputnik Planum,” is a sweeping, frozen plain the size of Texas and ringed by mountains of ice. Its smooth deposits are unmarred by impact craters, a stark contrast to the rest of Pluto’s battered surface. As a result, scientists believe the region formed recently, within the last few hundred million years. This contradicts past depictions of Pluto as an unchanging world.

(See all Orbital Views here)