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Stephen Hawking: New Horizon's Pluto Flyby a 'Giant Leap' in Study of Cosmic Origin

( [email protected] ) Jul 20, 2015 01:28 PM EDT
The successful flyby of NASA's New Horizons to Pluto is a giant leap in the study of cosmic origins, said British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking as he congratulated the team behind the mission.
Nasa's New Horizon mission shows fresh images of Pluto revealing ice mountains, craters. Nasa

The successful flyby of NASA's New Horizons to Pluto is a giant leap in the study of cosmic origins, said British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking as he congratulated the team behind the mission.

Hawkings said in a video he posted to Facebook, "The revelations of New Horizons may help us to understand better how our solar system was formed. We explore because we are human, and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey. I will be watching closely, and I hope you will, too."

Last week, NASA scientist announced that the piano-sized spacecraft New Horizon, successful fly over Pluto, some three billion miles (five billion kilometers) away from Earth and provided the first up-close look of the Plutonian system, reported NBC News.  Team members of the New Horizon mission said it would take them at least 16 months to pour over the data sent by New Horizon.

NASA release new images of Pluto showing soaring mountains made of frozen ice that surprises many scientists.

Pluto
(Photo : Nasa)

Fresh image of Pluto

Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University and project scientist for the New Horizons commented during a press conference for the New Horizon mission at the JHU's Applied Physics Laboratory, "Who'd have supposed that there are ice mountains?"

John Spencer, a member of the New Horizons team from the Southwest Research Institute, said New Horizon provided clearer images of Pluto, especially the region called the "heart" because of its shape. He added the heart has been informally named Tombaugh Regio, after Clyde Tombaugh, the American astronomer who discovered the dwarf planet in 1930.

The image showed mountains towering as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters). However, scientists are baffled with the sheer height of the mountains because most of Pluto is believed to be covered with frozen nitrogen and methane that are not strong enough to create huge mountains, said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute.

Stern described these findings as "balloon-busting." He added, "The bedrock that makes those mountains must be made of H2O, water ice. We see water ice on Pluto for the first time. We can be very sure that the water is there in great abundance."

The scientist also theorized the mountains were created less than 100 million years ago because they do not show more impacts.

"This is one of the youngest surfaces we've ever seen in the solar system," Jeff Moore, a member of New Horizons' geology, geophysics and imaging team, said in a NASA news release.

"This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds," Spencer added.

Tags : Stephen Hawking, new horizon, pluto flyby, ice mountains, craters, John Spencer, Alan Stern