New Pluto Images from NASA’s New Horizons: It’s Complicated

Posted: September 10, 2015 by tallbloke in solar system dynamics
Tags: , ,

Feast your eyes and let the guesswork commence…

“Complicated” surface of Pluto Image credit: NASA New Horizons

Lots more to see here

Comments
  1. Stephen Richards says:

    WHAT A GREAT IMAGE. Real science from NASA

  2. No one seems to want to consider that the surface features could have been formed on the surface of a large planet which exploded (as suggested by Dr Tom Van Flandern). I can not explain the roundness but other small bodies such as earth’s moon. Mars and Mars’ moon are round. (note Van Flandern proposes Mars is the result of an exploding planet). It is possible they were fluid internally and through gravity became round. Pouring liquid metal down a shot tower results in round pellets.

  3. hunter says:

    Amazing. One can imagine how the conglomeration process would proceed so slowly and uncleanly in such low gravity and low temperatures. I always wonder why there is so much interest in exploding planets. What would make a planet explode? It is not easy to do, even to a small planet. A strike by a large comet of asteroid?

  4. Who/what was Pluto, before the dog? Why that name! And congrats on the fine image. Are earthlings learning to do correctly? The first time? Wow!

  5. tallbloke says:

    I have a copy of the late Tom Van Flandern’s book. On my reading of it, he wasn’t suggesting that other planets are formed from the remnants of an ‘exploded planet’. He suggests (and the empirical evidence supports him), that a lot of debris from a disintegrated planet got plastered onto the surface of many planets and moons throughout the solar system around 3 million years ago. You can see this on many images of slowly rotating moons, where one hemisphere has a large dark patch and the rest of the moon is much lighter in colour.

    Regarding Hunter’s question of how the violent disintegration of a planet might come about, there are a couple of possibilities. One is impact. Another hypothesis is that radioactive material might reach critical mass in the core under certain circumstances.

    A regular contributor to this blog in the past has been Gerry Pease, who worked at the US naval observatory with Van Flandern, who he says was probably the most intelligent astronomer he ever worked with.

  6. tallbloke says: September 11, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    “Regarding Hunter’s question of how the violent disintegration of a planet might come about, there are a couple of possibilities. One is impact. Another hypothesis is that radioactive material might reach critical mass in the core under certain circumstances.”

    How about something like Earthlings with ever larger nuclear weapons? Things only got bad here when Earthlings started jumping out of the gravity well! Panic in Godsville! Will those that cultivate other creatures only to eat them, contaminate the entire Universe along with their governments? How about those compelled to be part of such government?🙂😦 -will-

  7. linneamogren says:

    These are amazing photos because we are seeing geological images not really fitting since Pluto lacks any real atmosphere. The sand dunes for example. I mean, without any real atmosphere how the hoot did that happen?? One could use conjecture and claim it once had an atmosphere capable of these things, but maybe not and if not how did these processes take place? Amazing.

  8. M E Wood says:

    Pluto another name for Hades God of the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology

  9. Brett Keane says:

    Linnea, if you are in the loop as an astronomy student, please keep us informed on what is being learned scientifically. Takes me back a long time, to a boy with a small telescope and a wondering mind….just magical it is.

  10. Brett Keane says:

    Seems to be more to that atmosphere than we thought, too…

  11. tchannon says:

    Given the temperature the simplest explanation is a surface of frozen nitrogen etc., substances we know as gases, add a touch of space dust, sprinkle sugar, add flag, and serve.

    What’s the problem?

  12. hunter says:

    Will,
    If all the nuclear weapons ever built were exploded all at once the terrible explosion would not come close to destroying the Earth.
    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/how-i-learnt-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb/
    An impact could destroy a planet. It seems likely that a giant impact on Earth created the moon by in effect destroying the significantly larger proto-Earth. It is also plausible that a major impact on Mars killed it as far as future life and a significant atmosphere is concerned.
    Critical mass is, I think much more problematic.
    Critical mass has to take place in a fraction of a second for it to be explosive. Designing the explosive assembly for a fission bomb was one of the biggest technical challenges. The idea that something as huge as a planetary core could spontaneously reach an explosive critical mass seems unlikely.

  13. linneamogren says:

    @ Brett “Linnea, if you are in the loop as an astronomy student, please keep us informed on what is being learned scientifically. Takes me back a long time, to a boy with a small telescope and a wondering mind….just magical it is.”

    Yes I be more than happy doing so. We are going to be talking lots about this next week in class so I be more than happy to share some ideas. These photos are really inspiring! The heart shaped region is very interesting as well, since it’s so smooth with only some hills. If you notice, there are no craters in that region which means it must be only a little over 100 million years old that surface. So, there’s another question what caused that?

  14. hunter says:

    linneamogren,
    Hi, what is the likelihood Pluto is dynamic, with some sort of cryo-tectonics process going on?
    That could explain resurfacing.
    That big relatively smooth area on the right has what could look like convection cell outlines…or refreeze patterns, which implies heating and cooling. Or perhaps junk accumulates on the surface somehow at low velocity due to low gravity and low relative differences in speed, leaving jumbled big piles and few craters….
    I bet you and your fellow astronomers really have a great time with this cryogenic conundrum.

  15. kuhnkat says:

    The duning process could be similar to what is described here:

    http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2010/arch10/101119craters.htm

  16. Hunter, I have read that exploding stars have been recorded over a short time such as two weeks. Telescopes see a bright light that dims and then disappears. Going back over photos and records it has been found that prior to an explosion there was a star present. I recall that some were in our Galaxy The “big bang” which is supposed to have formed everything must have been some explosion Is not Hawking now saying “black holes” maybe unstable.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    I would expect with the large orbital distance change and observed atmosphere growth, that there could be all sorts of fun things. Perhaps even seasonal lakes of what for us are normally gasses. Would need to look up triple point graphs… but do we really know how a frozen mix of nitrogen and CO2 and whatever behaves at those temps and pressures? Perhaps as nitrogen “muds”?

  18. E.M.Smith says: September 13, 2015 at 5:39 am

    I would expect with the large orbital distance change and observed atmosphere growth, that there could be all sorts of fun things. Perhaps even seasonal lakes of what for us are normally gasses. Would need to look up triple point graphs… but do we really know how a frozen mix of nitrogen and CO2 and whatever behaves at those temps and pressures? Perhaps as nitrogen “muds”?

    Pluto MST is a claimed 44K (brightness temperature, at some wavelength). LN2 (77K) makes a nice slushee at Earth SP as a colloid in LNe (27K). Perhaps, the same on Pluto, but very low pressure, may only be a gas! CO2 is long ago a compressible solid in LN2!🙂

  19. linneamogren says:

    @Hunter “Hi, what is the likelihood Pluto is dynamic, with some sort of cryo-tectonics process going on?
    That could explain resurfacing.
    That big relatively smooth area on the right has what could look like convection cell outlines…or refreeze patterns, which implies heating and cooling. Or perhaps junk accumulates on the surface somehow at low velocity due to low gravity and low relative differences in speed, leaving jumbled big piles and few craters….
    I bet you and your fellow astronomers really have a great time with this cryogenic conundrum.”

    Hi Hunter!! Good points of them and I agree there must be some active tectonics going to accomplish the resurfacing we see. We know moons orbiting gas giants can cause tectonic energy simply from the massive gravitational pulls. So Pluto is a real mystery as to just where its culminating enough energy to cause these geological mysteries. One conjecture is Pluto had an extremely warm interior from radioactivity and over time has been able to contain a large enough portion to sustain tectonic activity. Here’s another theory, being it’s incased with massive mountains of ice the planter has regulated that radioactive interior energy much better than we thought it could.

  20. linneamogren says:

    “planeter” lol My Swedish accent there came out lol

  21. hunter says:

    linneamogren,
    Thanks for the answer. That is some food for thought.
    Another idea after looking at the photo-
    Maybe the smooth surface is actually quite recent: frozen atmosphere settled into lowland regions?
    The highly eccentric orbit brings it through a wide range of environments.
    The Kuiper Belt is such a vast mystery and Pluto is like a sentinel gate keeper. And then the Oort Cloud…..I was just refreshing my memory and was surprised that both the Kuiper and Oort were first hypothesized by Dutch Astronomers. Strange but interesting factoid….
    Good luck studying this. What is your Astronomical area of interest, by the way?

  22. oldbrew says:

    We know the Moon exerts tidal forces on Earth from much further away (relative to its diameter) than Pluto’s ‘moon’ Charon – which is just over half the diameter of Pluto itself and more like a binary partner.

    So the planetary interactions of the Pluto-Charon system could be a lot more powerful than those in the Earth-Moon system.

  23. linneamogren says:

    Hi Hunter!

    My area of real interest is the Venusian atmosphere which I believe holds many answers to our struggles regarding the so called greenhouse effect. I’m also fascinated as to why so many galaxies have massive black holes in their center and what if any effect they may have in the stability or instability of the galaxy.

    Hi Old Brew, that’s a very good point and something I’m going to bang a few calculations on to see if there could be some overall effect on tectonics of Pluto.

  24. oldbrew says:

    ‘New Horizons probes the mystery of Charon’s red pole’
    http://phys.org/news/2015-09-horizons-probes-mystery-charon-red.html

    ‘Looking at Charon, it’s very clear that the northern polar region is much redder than the rest of the moon. But what’s causing this color difference and why does it occur at the pole?’

    Some sort of input/output effect?

    ‘The basic principle that binary systems can share material is not new, but it took New Horizons to visit Charon to see its effect firsthand!’

    So more evidence that Pluto-Charon is a binary system. The 1:1 rotation ratio of the two has been known for a while, as has Charon’s own synchronous orbit:rotation.

    ‘Photometric mapping of Charon’s surface shows a latitudinal trend in albedo, with a bright equator band and darker poles. The south polar region is apparently darker than the north.[29] The north polar region is dominated by a very large dark area informally dubbed “Mordor” by the New Horizons team.’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon_(moon)

  25. oldbrew says:

    Re tidal forces, Saturn’s moon Enceladus might serve as a model:
    ‘These geyser observations, along with the finding of escaping internal heat and very few (if any) impact craters in the south polar region, show that Enceladus is geologically active today. Enceladus is, like many satellites in the extensive systems of giant planets, trapped in an orbital resonance. Its resonance with Dione excites its orbital eccentricity, which tidal forces damp, resulting in tidal heating of its interior, and offering a possible explanation for the geological activity.’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enceladus#Subsurface_water_ocean

    Enceladus has a wide range of surface features, ranging from old, heavily cratered regions to young, tectonically deformed terrains that formed as recently as 100 million years ago, despite its small size.’ – Wikipedia

    Pluto: ‘In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes.’ – NASA report
    http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-new-horizons-discovers-frozen-plains-in-the-heart-of-pluto-s-heart/
    ______________________________________
    Enceladus itself is in the news this week…

    ‘Under Saturnian moon’s icy crust lies a ‘global’ ocean’
    http://phys.org/news/2015-09-saturnian-moon-icy-crust-lies.html

  26. Andrew says:

  27. oldbrew says:

    Pluto’s binary partner Charon (bigger than ‘dwarf planet’ Ceres) confounds scientists.

    ‘Pluto’s Big Moon Charon Reveals a Colorful and Violent History’

    ‘Even higher-resolution Charon images and composition data are still to come as New Horizons transmits data, stored on its digital recorders, over the next year – and as that happens, “I predict Charon’s story will become even more amazing!” said mission Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.’
    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Plutos_Big_Moon_Charon_Reveals_a_Colorful_and_Violent_History_999.html

    ‘It is a very large moon in comparison to its parent body, Pluto. Its gravitational influence is such that the barycenter of the Pluto–Charon system lies outside Pluto.’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon_(moon)

    So it should be classed as a binary, but the IAU ducked a decision.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon_(moon)#Classification_as_a_moon_or_dwarf_planet