The photos are stunningly detailed, providing scientists with exclusive data on the remote world’s geology and history, and an unexpected lesson of humility.
So far, we learned that Pluto has towering ice mountains, ice covered plains, and even a ‘heart,’ or a light-coloredaround the planet’s equatorial region called the Tombaugh Regio.
But from this Thursday’s batch of photos we learn that the tiny world also has some strange landforms that resemble snakeskin, dune-like structures, and plains dotted with shallow craters.
And, New Horizon mission has more in store only that the downlink rate is very slow and it may take nearly a year until all data reaches Earth.
William McKinnon, a planetary geologist involved in the New Horison’s mission deemed the findings “unique and perplexing.” And Mr. McKinnon has had his share of awkward alien worlds as he has been studying moons outside our solar system for 30 years.
While Pluto can be viewed as just another piece of rock in the crowded Kuiper Belt, scientists are amazed by its complexity, and New Horizons data never cease to amaze them.
Pluto imagery has revealed a word covered in methane ice with 11-foot-tall mountains made of ice rather than rock. Pluto also hosts nitrogen-laden glaciers, smooth plains with no crater on their surface, signaling an ongoing geological activity. Moreover, its largest moon Charon is so big that some scientists have doubts that it really is a moon, and now think that it is another dwarf planted locked in a binary system with Pluto.
Scientists said that the new findings suggest that remote worlds can be as complex as ours despite their long distance from the sun and their meager size. Some researchers said that their peers should stop imagining the conditions on remote planets and marvel at their complexity in humility when they eventually face it.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics ’s Scott Kenyon admitted that the new findings are ‘sobering’. He said that he and his colleagues make ‘very complicated models’ of the worlds that they aren’t even able to see along with issuing ‘confident’ hypotheses on those worlds.
“But we’re continually surprised because the universe is varied on scales we sometimes fail to understand,”
Geoffrey Collins, another planetary geologist, said that scientists often fail to understand new worlds because they often compare them with what they already have at hand. For instance, they believed that Jupiter’s moon Io was geologically dead by comparing it with our moon, but Voyager 1 imagery revealed the contrary. And so did New Horizons with Pluto to scientists’ amazement.
“How many times do we have to be surprised in order to stop being surprised?,”
Collins rhetorically asked.
Image Source: Wikipedia