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New Horizons spots ice flows on Pluto’s surface

This simulated flyover of two regions on Pluto, the northwestern Sputnik Plain and Hillary Mountains, was created from New Horizons' close-approach images. (Video: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

Pluto's surface is full of gorgeous surprises. The latest find from the New Horizons mission is that the strange ice on Pluto may still be flowing across it.

At a news conference Friday, NASA scientists announced that Sputnik Planum -- which sits in the western half of Pluto’s "heart" (Tombaugh Regio) contains a sheet of nitrogen ice that seems to have once flowed like glaciers do on Earth. There's no reason why it couldn't still be flowing -- and it certainly flowed relatively recently, within the past few million years.

[Breathtaking image shows Pluto with an atmospheric halo]

“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,” mission co-investigator John Spencer said in a statement. “I’m really smiling.”

Meanwhile, we've also got some new mountains:

The newly named Hillary Montes are an homage to Sir Edmund Hillary, half of the pair who first climbed Mount Everest in 1953. Tenzing Norgay, his fellow climber, was already honored with a Plutonian range. The Hillary mountains are comparable in height to the Appalachian Mountains of Earth, while the Norgay peaks are more like the Rockies.

"For many years, we referred to Pluto as the Everest of planetary exploration,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. “It’s fitting that the two climbers who first summited Earth’s highest mountain, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, now have their names on this new Everest.”

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