By Alex DeMetrick

WASHINGTON (WJZ)—Icy plains, soaring mountains, an atmosphere blowing into space.

Alex DeMetrick reports, those are just the very early findings from this week’s flyby of Pluto, by a spacecraft built here in Maryland.

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On Wednesday, NASA released the first close up images of Pluto, showing the kind of fine detail the new horizons spacecraft is capable of producing.

As it races away, the collected data is being sent back in bursts–something that will take months to complete.

“It’s during this time we’re going to be able to obtain the data from the flyby,” said Jim Green, NASA Planetary Sciences.

On Friday, NASA released the latest images and scientific findings. By looking at Pluto as it passes in front of the sun, a thin atmosphere of nitrogen and methane was measured.

Mission scientist, Fran Bagenal says that’s about 500 tons per hour of material that’s escaping.

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A vast icy plain with shallow trenches and what looks like low hills. Another section of the planet shows mountains as high as the rockies. Plains and mountains are signs Pluto is geologically active.

“I’m still having to take deep breaths. The landscape is just astonishingly active,” said Jeff Moore, mission scientist.

And the spacecraft was built and controlled by the Hopkins applied physics lab in Howard County.

“What a historic week. In particular the heart of the new horizons that’s beating and beating well and beating still,” Green said,

Those controlling New Horizons say traveling three billion miles over nine and a half years, is like hitting a golf ball in New York and putting the cup in Los Angeles. An example of the kind of precision the team has accomplished.

And the pay-off is only just beginning.

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The public’s interest in Pluto is soaring. According to NASA, billions world wide have been following this close encounter on television and social media