If there's one thing we've learned from NASA's New Horizons flyby on July 14, it's that we have a really incomplete understanding of planetary evolution. And now, in a new image release by the Pluto mission, there's yet another landscape (actually, landscapes) that, for now, defies explanation.
PHOTO: New Horizons Returns Photos of Hazy ‘Arctic' Pluto
In an eerie observation of Pluto's terminator (the line that separates Pluto nighttime from sunlight on the dwarf planet's surface) is a very alien-looking landscape with regular ripples that resemble the scale patterns on a snakeskin. The most exciting thing about this image is that, like most of the high-resolution views being beamed back from the Kuiper belt, planetary scientists only have a vague idea as to what might be going on.
"It's a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles," said William McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team deputy lead from Washington University in St. Louis, in a Sept. 24 news release. "It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This'll really take time to figure out; maybe it's some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto's faint sunlight."
ANALYSIS: Pluto: A Very Different Beast to Neptune's Moon Triton
In short, it's a conundrum, but it sure makes for an intriguing mystery.
While scientists ponder this latest stop on Pluto's mystery tour, more stunning imagery has been downlinked, including the highest-resolution color view of Pluto yet, with zoomed-in potions of the tiny world's heart-shaped region, on a plane informally called Sputnik Planum. You can get lost in the full-resolution image here.