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Hello – and goodbye…

Late last night a new image of Pluto was released by the New Horizons team, and it was a bitter-sweet encounter. This is the photo…

nh-pluto-7-11-15

Why? Because that image shows probably *the* most fascinating features seen on Pluto’s surface so far – a quartet of dark… somethings… all spaced out in a line. “But isn’t that a good thing?” I hear some of you asking. Yes, well, it is… they’re intriguing, and have been ever since our first much blurrier glimpse of them a little while ago… but the bad news is that we won’t be seeing them again, not from New Horizons anyway. I tweaked the image a little to make them stand out more clearly…

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Isn’t that wonderful? (the image, not my tweaking, ha!). Look at them all lined up, like a cat walked across a freshly-laid path, leaving paw-prints in the cement. This is the Charon-facing side of Pluto, which means it will be hidden from view during the fly-by, so this is the best view we we will have of those strange features during this mission, and until the next mission to Pluto, which probably won’t happen for several decades.

What are they? Speculation is, of course, rife amongst followers of the mission, Some think they could be methane lakes, like Titan has (unlikely for lots of sciency reasons). Others think they could be depressions filled with dark dust, blown there by the winds of Pluto. Hmmm… possible… but who knows? Others still wonder if they are just patches of darker, older ice. Well, maybe, but their secret will remain safe until we return to Pluto, which might not be in our lifetimes (unless you’re a 7 year old reading this).

Ahhh, damnit

It would be handy if New Horizons could just slam on the brakes and go back for another look, but that can’t happen. Her course is locked in, and as the great man said…

laws+of+physics1334204511

…so onwards New Horizons will scream, heading towards Pluto and her date with history.

But never mind, even though it does, to be honest, look rather less exciting than this side, I’m sure the side of Pluto NH *will* see in detail will be just as fascinating. After all, we’re only seeing it in low resolution blurriness at the moment, and there could be all sorts of wonders and weird stuff just waiting to be seen yet! I mean, if you looked at Europa at such low resolution you would have no idea of how bizarre and fascinating its surface is, and the same goes for Ganymede too…

collage collage2

(Please note, before anyone leaves a comment, that I *know* that is not an accurate comparison… different sizes, different albedoes etc, I’m just Making A Point, ok?)

There are now less than two days, TWO DAYS to go until New Horizons flies past Pluto, and the excitement is really building. You’ll be relieved to hear I managed to get out of the flat and stock up on those tea bags and biscuits I talked about, and I’m now ready for the big day and those on either side of it, too. There should be at least one more new pic tonight, even sharper and clearer still, so looking forward to that. In the meantime, to end this post with as we ponder what might have been, here’s a (purely for fun, as usual) colourised view of the face of Pluto we won’t see again for a long, long time…

v2cb

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