Pluto: I Knew I Loved You

Pluto in color, NASA image.

There’s always been something special about the planet Pluto.  When I was young, and it was still considered a planet, I pictured it as a frozen, purple sphere shivering in the cold, dark reaches of our solar system.  It seemed like a lonely place to be but it had such a cool name that was irresistibly lovable.

NASA is still pouring through the images and data sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft that spent only 6.4 Earth days (just a few hours Pluto time) taking photos as it zoomed past Pluto, some 93 million miles from Earth.  There’s been quite a few surprises discovered about the dwarf planet including ice mountains, a blue atmosphere, red ice, surface winds, ice flows, and most importantly, it’s just so freaking cool to look at!

Our first big surprise was that Pluto has loved us as much as we’ve loved it all these years and it let us know in one of the first images released to the public.  Our love was not unrequited after all.  We didn’t discover a sad, lonely, pitiful looking planet feeling snubbed after being stripped of planetary status but one with character and a lot of heart.

The heart-shaped coloration on Pluto’s surface, shown in the true color photo below is now an iconic image for the planet, I mean the dwarf planet, which is smaller than our moon.  But Pluto has us beat in regards to moons – it has 5 to our 1.

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Pluto in true color; photo credit NASA

And while we continue to look for past or current signs of life on Mars, we see in Pluto a very familiar place.  It looks a lot like home in black & white.

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Pluto’s ice mountains; photo credit NASA

If you were standing on the surface of Pluto, in its -387 degree (F) temperatures, hopefully in a well-insulated spacesuit and looked up, you wouldn’t see a blue sky, even though NASA captured the image below showing a blue atmospheric haze around the planet.  The sky would look dark but at sunrise and sunset, a faint, colorful glow would likely be visible.

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Pluto’s atmosphere; photo credit NASA

So, what do the discoveries of Pluto tell us?  Well, there’s still a lot of data to comb through and a lot of data yet to be received but more than anything it reminds us that our assumptions about space and distant planets, yes I’m calling it a planet, are not 100% correct.  There’s surprises out there waiting for us and I think that’s wonderful.

And Pluto, you’ll always be a planet to me.