Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.
The mountains are probably composed of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock.” Although methane and nitrogen ice covers much of the surface of Pluto, these materials are not strong enough to build the mountains. Instead, a stiffer material, most likely water-ice, created the peaks.
The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 47,800 miles (770,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.