Scientists dissect Pluto’s heart

Image: Pluto map
This map of the left side of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature uses colors to represent Pluto’s varied terrains, which helps scientists understand the geological processes at work. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the scientists behind NASA’s New Horizons mission are sharing a map that brings a different perspective to Pluto’s heart.

The map shows clearly that the dwarf planet’s bright heart-shaped region, informally known as Tombaugh Regio, can be broken into two geologically distinct areas.

The left side is dominated by an icy plain of frozen nitrogen, called Sputnik Planum. This is the part of the heart that’s dissected in the New Horizons team’s color-coded chart.

The map covers an area that measures 1,290 miles from top to bottom, which is roughly the width of the United States from north to south.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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