16 July 2015

Images of Pluto

Sorry, couldn't resist (see also Pinku-Sensei, with music added).  Seriously, New Horizons is now sending images like these (click each to enlarge) of a planet which until now was nothing but a blurry dot to us:

Those are mountains, more than two miles high, probably made of ice (discussion here).  In Pluto's extreme cold and low gravity, ice is rigid enough to form such features.

This overview picture was taken just before the closest approach, showing the variety of the terrain:
The relative lack of cratering suggests ongoing geological activity (cratering happens continuously on all planets and moons; if we don't see craters, that means that geology or weather is erasing them as fast as they form).  This was unexpected.  Geological activity on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn is driven by heat caused by tidal forces exerted by the gravity of the nearby giant planet, but Pluto has no such giant planet nearby, no source of tidal forces except its own five moons.

This is Charon, Pluto's largest and closest-in moon:
It too shows a surprising variety of terrain and paucity of craters (discussion here).

And these aren't even the real high-resolution images yet.  New Horizons collected so much data that it will take about 16 months to transmit everything back here.  Updates will continue to be posted on the mission page.

This machine is working perfectly at hundreds of degrees below zero, after nine and a half years of travel, sending us mountains of information about a place thirteen thousand times further away than our Moon -- showing what we as a species can accomplish when we put our minds to it.

If only Galileo, Copernicus, Aristarchus could have lived to see this!

Pluto is named after the Roman god of the underworld, while Charon in Greek mythology was the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx to Hades.  Now that a wealth of newly-discovered surface features on both worlds need naming, we're giving them similarly dark and underworld names from mythology and literature (found via Progressive Erupts).  In the very unlikely event that Pluto is ever colonized, some people will have "Cthulhu" as part of their address.


Blogger Ahab said...

If they colonize Charon, people can actually live at Mordor! I imagine all the jokes about "You shall not pass!" will get tiresome among residents of the Balrog colony on Pluto.

16 July, 2015 07:31  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Amazing images--ironically, 50 years after Mariner 4 sent us the first detailed images of Mars during that probe's flyby.

Infidel, you should check out Clifford Simak's 1973 short story "Construction Shack" about the discovery made by the first manned mission to Pluto:


...figure it's appropriate!

16 July, 2015 07:58  
Anonymous Rene said...

I recognize the dog but who's the gal with green hair?

16 July, 2015 14:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: Maybe there are already orcs living in Mordor. The Pluto system has been full of surprises so far.

Marc: I should have mentioned that anniversary. And I'll check out the story. I can also recommend Larry Niven's "Wait It Out" to any readers interested in Pluto-themed tales.

Rene: There's a Japanese animé series called "Sailor Moon" which also has a following in the US, about a group of girl superheros named after different planets. That one is Sailor Pluto.

16 July, 2015 16:34  
Blogger Pinku-Sensei said...

Thanks for the shout-out and link! Honestly, once I found the music video and image to match, I couldn't resist building an entry around them. I'm too much of an otaku to pass on the opportunity.

16 July, 2015 19:20  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Nine and a half years! Another few decades, and they can send back some pictures from that planet where there is no global warming, and Austrian school economics actually works.

17 July, 2015 15:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Pinku: Thanks for the post!

Green: Sorry, that planet is in the Mirror Universe. We'll have to wait for the invention of faulty transporters.

17 July, 2015 18:42  

Post a Comment

<< Home