In this gallery we've highlighted the strangest, most surprising and just plain awesome things we've learned about Pluto in the past year. For starters, it's super hazy on Pluto. In this image about 20 haze layers are visible extending over hundreds of kilometers of the dwarf planet.
Caption byEric Mack / Photo by NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Gladstone et al./Science (2016)
Recent analysis published in March finds the heart is geologically young and absent of craters. This fact, along with the presence of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices hints at a world that isn't as frozen in time as we previously thought.
Pluto could be home to nuclear-powered volcanoes, believe it or not. It's suspected that the radioactive breakdown of elements deep in Pluto's interior, left over from its formation, could be melting ice and allowing it to flow to the surface.
Caption byEric Mack / Photo by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institut
New Horizons science team researcher Carly Howett explained in a release: "A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger -- but still relatively small -- sootlike particles we call tholins."
Right now, maps of Pluto and its moon Charon read like a science fiction hall of fame roster. The informal names given for features on both worlds honor real and imagined characters like Cthulhu, Skywalker and Percival Lowell. A fair number of robots are also honored, including Sputnik, Voyager and the Tardis from "Doctor Who."
"It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology," William McKinnon of the New Horizons team said in a press release. "This'll really take time to figure out; maybe it's some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto's faint sunlight."
It snows on Pluto, too, just not with the same white fluffy stuff that's fun to catch on your tongue. In fact, trying that with snow on Pluto would be pretty unpleasant because the flakes falling on some snow-capped peaks there look to be made of methane.
To just emphasize how much weirder and more colorful the Pluto we know today is than that distant blue dot that stood in for it up until 2015, here's a false-color image designed to make its different and distinct regions stand out. The result looks something like a psychedelic valentine sent from the edge of the solar system.
Even though we have a better picture of Pluto now than ever before, it's really just the beginning. There's still lots more to learn about the dwarf planet, which we now know is more like a rainbow-colored dot at the edge of the solar system.