Pluto Presents!

Hot off the press! Check out Pluto’s first close up:

Pluto Surface 1

The young surface of Pluto (the planet)! [click for NASA source]

Those mountains are up to 11,000 feet high! And the surface looks to be roughly 100 million years old — extremely young compared to the four-and-a-half billion year age of the solar system (and not a crater in sight!).

And check out this great portrait of Charon:


Charon (the moon). [click for NASA source]

Charon also shows a surprisingly youthful surface with lots of interesting geology! Note the deep canyon along the edge starting at the two-o’clock mark. That notch could be over four miles deep! Also notice the cliffs across the middle of the moon.

That dark area up at the top has been informally named Mordor!

Speaking of naming things, they’ve named the most prominent feature on the planet (yes, planet) — the bright heart of Pluto — after Clyde Tombaugh! It’s called the Tombaugh {something}. (It was a geological word I wasn’t familiar with, so it didn’t stick.)

I’ll leave you with this. That stunning first image of Pluto enabled Emily Lakdawalla (of the Planetary Society blogs) to complete her great image of the not-planets (check it out!):


The Not-Planets (spot the ringer). [click for source]

I read one blogger who proposed we drop the whole “is it a planet?” debate and just call them all what they really are: worlds!

Space! The final frontier. To explore strange new worlds. To boldly go where we have never gone before. Pretty amazin’ times!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

17 responses to “Pluto Presents!

  • Jamie

    Thanks for sharing. WAY Cool!!! Amazing they were able to get these images….

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I know! Totally amazing! Nine-and-a-half years, five billion miles… the mind boggles!

      (Haven’t talked to you in a long time! How’s it going? Email me if you don’t want to answer here.)

  • Marie

    Love the images! Thanks for sharing!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Very cool. Everyone seems to be excited by the idea of ice mountains and cryo-volcanism. Although I’m not sure if the word “ice” is appropriate, since the frozen H2O out there is as hard and dry as rock is here.

    “I read one blogger who proposed we drop the whole “is it a planet?” debate and just call them all what they really are: worlds!”

    Cue debate on the definition of “world” in 3, 2, 1… 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      You’d hope the word “world” would be generic enough people wouldn’t argue over the definition, but you’re right — no doubt they would! Maybe we’ll be reduced to calling them “space thingies.”

      Your gestalt of ice is of something that isn’t dry or rock-hard (e.g. ice cubes), but living in Minnesota I’ve experienced winter days where the temps drop enough that ice is dry and rock-hard (usually about -10 F is the starting point). In fact, it’s one indicator that temps are really low. The ice actually stops being slippery and gets so hard that hitting it with a heavy metal implement has about the same effect as hitting a rock with a heavy metal implement — small gouges and chips.

      There is also that when you delve into the physics of water, you discover that, for such a common substance, water is kind of amazing in all sorts of ways (that its solid form floats on its liquid form is just the beginning). There are multiple forms of water ice depending on pressure and temperature. (There actually is an “ice 9” although it’s not the horrific substance Vonnegut wrote about.)

      Just think of stone as “lava ice” for a new perspective! XD

      I recall describing Robert Forward’s book, Camelot 30K, to you. Humans discover and visit an alien race living in the Oort Cloud. Those aliens are aghast that a form of life exists that is based on molten ice (a substance they see as “rock” and use for building). And which comes from a region of the solar system they view as we would the fringes of the Sun’s atmosphere. It would be like us meeting a race with lava for blood or that lived on the Sun (something David Brin’s book Sundiver does present).

      From the Sun to the Oort Cloud — quite the range of aliens!

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        As a native of south Louisiana, I have to admit that my visceral conception of ice is “that cold solid stuff which will soon be water.” If I lived where you live, aside from being catatonic from the cold, it’d probably be easier for me to intuit ice as a more permanent construct.

        Of course, if I lived further from the sun than the middle asteroid belt, I’d consider ice to be just another type of rock. I think Forward’s ice aliens could have come from a moon of Jupiter or Saturn as well. (Although I haven’t read the story, so I’m probably missing some crucial detail that requires they be in the Oort cloud.)

        I think a key question for these types of aliens is, what is the feasible range for life chemistry? It may be that too close to the sun prevents the formation of complex organic molecules. Too far from the sun might simply slow evolution down such that any life out there is still in the early microscopic stages.

        That said, I have to admit that a part of me was hoping the first clear pictures of Pluto would show (possibly abandoned) alien structures 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Heh! I still have high hopes for the “bright spots” on Ceres. Very mysterious how the Dawn spacecraft experienced an “anomaly” in its orientation system and is now in a holding orbit while engineers try to figure out what kind of alien death ray hit their spacecraft.

        I think Forward’s aliens might have found the solar system a bit too warm for them (given how little sunlight reaches as far as the Oort Cloud). (A crucial aspect of their life cycle does require almost an almost gravity-free environment, though.) The aliens are very, very small — we visit them using tiny robots — which I assume has something to do with low-temperature life.

        There are radioisotopes involved, so some of the energy necessary from life comes from radioactivity (as it does here on Earth, and as — surprisingly — it may be doing on Pluto). I believe there are complex molecules in space that are created by supernovas and other energetic events. It’s all rather unlikely, but one nice thing about writers like Forward — you can count on the science having a high degree of plausibility (with knowledge and research backing that up). (That’s exactly why I really like writers like Forward, Egan, and Brin.)

        It struck me that maybe one reason the idea of ice as a construction material doesn’t cause me to bat an eye is that part of the Annual Winter Carnival held up here involves the building of a full-sized ice castle. Workers use chainsaws to cut blocks of ice out of a nearby lake and haul them to the construction site. They light it with colored lights, so it looks really pretty at night.

        There is also that once you’ve driven a large fully-loaded pickup truck across a frozen lake a few times you begin to ice as something a lot more substantial! I’ve spent entire days hanging out in a little building sitting on a three-foot layer of ice over 20-30 feet of (very cold) water. If you’ve ever been out on a salt flat, it’s like that. Dead flat for miles around you and no vegetation of any kind (just other ice shacks).

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Yes, the Ceres bright spot! 🙂

        Forward’s aliens are sounding more and more interesting. If nothing else, they’d have to advantage of being able to survive much further into the heat death of the universe.

        I’ve actually found a scientific error or two in Egan’s work, although it was in a story he wrote in the 90s, so a lot of allowance has to be made for scientific advances since then. (The example that comes to mind are the gamma ray bursts in Diaspora. GRBs are tightly directional instead of the broad explosions he posits in that book.)

        From what I understand, supernovas produce higher atomic weight elements (above iron), but I hadn’t heard that they produced organic molecules. Although I could see such molecules forming in the resulting cloud.

        I think I’d be apprehensive as hell driving or walking on ice, no matter how thick it was. But I guess I’d eventually get used to it. The Winter festival looks like a lot of people are comfortable with the idea up there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, allowances do have to be made for stories written before our knowledge or technology changed. One that always cracks me up is SF written in the 1970-1980 time frame that assumes fax will still be a thing (but really, really high tech). Somehow the idea of small personal displays completely escaped them. (The pre-transistor era Venus Equilateral stories assume vacuum tube technology in space!)

        As you say, molecular compounds form in the gas clouds. The supernovas provide the source elements and energy.

        Walking on ice is disconcerting at first! But then so is flying through the air in a giant metal tube. Or being in a smaller metal box speeding at 90 feet per second directly over a concrete surface. XD

  • rung2diotimasladder

    Debate on “world” begins. If a dog appears on it, it’s a world. Simple as that.

  • reocochran

    This was a cool and exciting photo of Pluto, W.S. ! °•●○ ☆ The photo of Charon was intriguing!
    I enjoy your enthusiasm and also, your additional information, too.

And what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: