NASA’s probe New Horizons has reached Pluto, called home, and started sending pictures. The first detailed images sent back to Earth show a range of icy mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the dwarf planet.
The mountains, which formed about 100 million years ago and are probably composed of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock.”, may still be geologically active today.
The interpretation is clear. New Horizons must have found the range of icy mountains prophetically described by H.P. Lovecraft in his 1931 masterpiece “At the Mountains of Madness.” The hiding place where Cthulhu sleeps can’t be far.
Cthulhu, the dark cosmic deity featured in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and Charlie Stross’ “A Colder War,” a loose sequel to “At the Mountains of Madness,” is said to be sleeping in the ice until the cosmic conditions are right, at which point it will reassert its dominion over this part of the universe. Though the NASA scientists haven’t yet located the deity’s dark, icy hiding place, one of the features detected by New Horizons has already been informally named after Cthulhu.
It Will Take 16 Months to Send All Images Back to Earth
The top image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 47,800 miles (77,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.
The right image of Pluto’s satellite Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) suggests widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep. In Charon’s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.
New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.
New Horizons will continue to study Pluto for a few days, after which the probe will move to study other objects in the Kuiper belt. However, New Horizons sends data at about 2,000 bits per second, so it will take 16 months to send all the Pluto encounter science data back to Earth.
“Because it gets one shot at the Pluto system, New Horizons is designed to gather as much data as it can, as quickly as it can – taking about 100 times more data on close approach than it can send home before flying away,” NASA explains. “Although the spacecraft will send select, high-priority datasets home in the days just before and after close approach, the mission will continue returning the data stored in onboard memory for a full 16 months.”
Images from NASA.
92% of Earth-Like Habitable Planets Are Not Born Yet
According to a theoretical study published yesterday in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, only about 8% of habitable planets existed at the birth of our solar system, leaving 92% to form over the coming millennia.
Far-fetched as it may seem, the scientists responsible for the report stand behind their reasoning. Speaking to the Global Post, Peter Behroozi, an author of the study, said, “Our main motivation was understanding the Earth’s place in the context of the rest of the universe. Compared to all the planets that will ever form in the universe, the Earth is actually quite early.”
The study’s scientists developed a “family photo” album of all the known planets and studied data from NASA to determine their findings. One thing they were able to point out was that stars were created at a much more rapid rate 10 billion years ago than they are today. At the same time, there is so much leftover gas that planets and stars will continue to be born in our solar system for millennia to come. However, our galaxy, the Milky Way, has used up most of its gas. New stars here are unlikely.
For an area of study which often involves bleak philosophical musings on the probability of alien life, the notion of habitable planets yet to be born is a streak of hope for future generations. It becomes imaginable that space exploration could become advanced enough that a budding planet might be observed in real-time, and new life forms might be seen as they evolve.
Scientists call any planet which are rocks and orbit in the habitable zone of their star or stars. According to known research, life requires h20. But, again, there is currently an abundance of hydrogen in our galaxy, making it within the realm of imagination that planets like earth will continue to be birthed. Recent findings have determined that the size of planet Earth is par for the galaxy, with as many as 1 billion such planets existing. According to the theoretical study, more are on the way, with the added feature of habitability.
The paper concluded that the universe will continue to expand at such a rate that it will become very difficult to trace back the lineage the way is currently possible.
The observational evidence for the big bang and cosmic evolution, encoded in light and other electromagnetic radiation, will be all but erased away 1 trillion years from now due to the runaway expansion of space. Any far-future civilizations that might arise will be largely clueless as to how or if the universe began and evolved.
Images of Kepler-186f(featured) and Kepler-452b from Shutterstock.
Short VR Film ‘Dirrogate’ Offers Intriguing Preview of Future Tech Wonders
Science fiction writer and Virtual Reality (VR) developer Clyde DeSouza has produced a short VR Graphic Novel, Dirrogate, based on his near-future science fiction novel, Memories with Maya. Dirrogate is an early example of VR Cinema intended for VR headsets like Oculus Rift or Gear VR, but for those who don’t have yet a VR headset DeSouza has posted a spherical video version to Vrideo and YouTube.
Yes, Mr. Robinson, We Can Go To The Stars
Aurora, the new science fiction novel of Kim Stanley Robinson, is a totally awesome masterpiece that will keep you glued to the book until you finish reading. Yet, Robinson’s grim views on the possibility of interstellar colonization seem overly pessimistic.
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