WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- NASA's New Horizons space probe has transmitted new images that depict the surface of Pluto in great detail -- and include what looks like a tail coming from the dwarf planet's atmosphere.
The new findings were detailed in a news conference Sunday by Jim Green, the director of Planetary Science at NASA, Christian Science Monitor reported Sunday. Items of note include what appears to be a cracked, icy surface and the mysterious tail.
"I'm a little biased, but I think the Solar System saved the best for last!" he said.
The first new image relayed from the space probe was an image of Pluto's moon, Nix. The image was a relatively low resolution photo, but scientists said despite that fact, the image was twice as good as any previously taken by the Hubble telescope.
Another image shed some light on a rather perplexing mystery: the bright, heart-shaped region on Pluto, informally called Tombaugh Regio. Scientists said measurements taken by New Horizons revealed high levels of carbon monoxide there -- the only place on the entire dwarf planet with such a high concentration of the gas.
"The landscape is just astoundingly amazing," New Horizons leader Jeff Moore said. "Some regions have no craters at all ... It shows that geological processes are happening up to the present time."
The "tail" observed by scientists is believed to be a trail of escaping nitrogen-rich atmosphere -- 500 tons of which are escaping every hour. By contrast, Mars' atmosphere only releases 1 ton per hour.
The cold, dense tail is formed by the ionized gas that stretches for about 1,000 miles, scientists said.
Now flying away from Pluto, the New Horizons probe will continue on to explore another object located in the Kuiper belt. Launched in 2006, it has so far traveled more than three billion miles, NASA said.
Scientists have been surprised by the data they have received so far. Many previously believed Pluto was a rather inert rock surrounded by ice and gas. However, the New Horizons mission, though, has delivered evidence that it is far more active than previously believed.