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Pluto’s polar canyons get their close-up

Image: Pluto north polar region
This enhanced-color image was obtained by New Horizons’ MVIC camera about 45 minutes before closest approach on July 14, 2015, when the spacecraft was 21,100 miles away. The lower edge of the image measures about 750 miles long. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

The heart-shaped region along Pluto’s equator has been the darling of NASA’s New Horizons mission, but it’s the north polar region that gets the love in this week’s featured image.

The area seen here is part of a region informally known as Lowell Regio. That’s a tribute to Percival Lowell, the millionaire astronomer who sparked the search that eventually led to Pluto’s discovery.

Toward the left side of the image, there’s a canyon that measures about 45 miles wide. Other canyons, to the east and west, are about 6 miles wide. These formations hint at tectonic activity in ancient times, according to the New Horizons science team.

Near the lower right corner, there are irregularly shaped pits that span as much as 45 miles. The science team says those pits are about 2.5 miles deep, and may indicate locations where subsurface ice has been lost from below. That would have caused the surface layer to collapse into the void.

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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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