Pluto, for much of its history, has largely been a blank. Sitting far, far away from us, we haven’t really been able to take a close look at it until now. And those closeups are revealing some weird and mysterious new questions about the beloved dwarf planet.
Let’s start with some basic planetary geology; the best way to spot the stuff on a planet that’s been around the longest is counting the craters. The more craters it has, the older it is. One look at this image and you can see why scientists are scratching their heads:
Yep, that would be a lot of old rock and what would appear to be a lot of new stuff right above it. Another oddity is what appears to be dunes, which don’t usually form in planets without sand, or much of an atmosphere.
Just how unexpected is this? Alan Stern, a guy who’s spent his life studying the outer reaches of our solar system, said this about the photos:
“If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
This is just the first run of images from New Horizons; the probe began transmitting back data over the Labor Day weekend and is going to continue to send images for a year. Who knows what mysteries are waiting for us?
Meanwhile, back on Earth, we’ve got another mystery: Some smart-ass named an area of Pluto “Cthulhu Regio.” Do you want Elder Gods, NASA? Because that’s how you get Elder Gods!