The Pluto Enigma #stillnotaplanet #plutoenigma @profmcateer

The part of science I like best is that the more we learn, the more questions we have. Pluto provides a perfect example of this. Initially a planet, although lonesome. Then it found its kin, a set of dwarf planets. And now, when we actually see it, it looks more Earthly than we could have imagined. Large, frosty glaciers, seemingly draining watery residue from icy mountains. A distinct, hazy atmosphere, layered and complex. Active landscapes. This is absolutely not the dead cold planet we teach about. This enigma is alive.

In the photo, the New Horizon’s spacecraft is looking back at Pluto, with the Sun setting through the mist. The glaciers slowly drain moisture from icy mountains that tower over smooth, lowland basins. Overhead, the sky is filled with haze – lots and lots of it, carved into multiple layers. The image, “reminds me of the Transantarctic Mountains along the Ross Ice Sheet, because of the tall mountains looming over a flat open expanse of ever-changing ice,” says New Horizons team member Simon Porter of the Southwest Research Institute.

But there the similarity to Earth ends. Pluto’s mountains cannot be made by plate tectonics. Pluto’s glaciers are made from nitrogen, not water ice. Pluto has something analogous to Earth’s hydrological cycle, where water evaporates from the oceans, rains or snows back down, and returns to the seas by rivers and glaciers. But Pluto’s chemistry and temperature are different, perhaps dominated by soft nitrogen ice, and also featuring methane and carbon monoxide ices. This is not Earth-like. It is not reminiscent of Mars or Venus. This is not a planet.

To use the word ‘planet ‘ to describe this land is doing it a disservice. It is so much more than that. This, is an enigma.

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10 comments on “The Pluto Enigma #stillnotaplanet #plutoenigma @profmcateer

  1. Very fascinating and intriguing indeed, ice mountains as well as a very snakeskin texture. They say scientist are baffled on how these patterns were created but assumed frozen gasses which are released when surface temperatures increase could be the reason. We are living in the age of discovery, just recently they announced that water was found on planet Mars. Awesome stuff, Enjoy it.

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  2. Wow! I never imagined Pluto to be what was just described here! I remember when I was younger, we learned in school that Pluto was a planet. I think the term “enigma” is a better term to use when looking at Pluto.

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  3. Wow! I really enjoyed this entry. It’s so poetic, it helps remind me that although complex, the universe has a simple beauty to it. This makes the possibility of understanding the world right at my hands grasp.

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  4. Learning about Pluto I would have never pictured it looking this way. I always just assumed a big cold rocky planet but seeing this is just amazing. How far we have come with technology opens up so many other possibilities and I can’t wait to see more discoveries like this.

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  5. I Believe Pluto has much more to say. We all know that its small, far, and that its not a planet but this is much more then just a discovery. An enigma is a great way to discribe this icy planet and its unbelievable how this article can help us relate to it. Its not just rocky and icy, its much more then that.

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  6. Truly an enigma. Awesome photo! Gives me a fresh perspective on how i’d imagined Pluto. Crazy how cold and mysterious this place seems to be…

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  7. This was a fascinating read. The picture of Pluto for me didn’t resemble what I have known about the planet. I think with the new technology that we are sending out into the skies, it will only further our perception of so many distant objects in the sky and we can see after all that a lot of them can be pretty relative to how some part of earth look at the end of the day.

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  8. This is not how I imagined Pluto would look like! I imagined just a jagged terrain full of spikes. I see now that there are also smooth plains. This is very interesting.

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