The dark parts are the “heavily craters and ancient terrain of the Ctulhu Region”, and that’s just awesome. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI via Scientific American
No, of course not. That’s just clickbait. But as this amazing Scientific American post by Lee Billings highlights, Pluto is far weirder and more inexplicable that we had imagined. If this paragraph doesn’t give you chills, you’re made of sterner stuff that you should be.
The biggest surprises have been Pluto’s surface and atmosphere, which are restlessly active and diverse despite average temperatures of only tens of degrees above absolute zero. Some scientists expected New Horizons would find Pluto to be little more than an inert, sunlight-starved orb. Instead, the spacecraft encountered a world where nitrogen glaciers flow down into plains of frozen methane from towering mountains of water ice. Sunless half-frozen oceans lurk deep beneath the surface, and multiple moons tumble overhead through hydrocarbon-hazed red skies that tinge to blue at sunrise and sunset.
You really owe it to yourself to read the whole piece. What strikes me- beside the haunting beauty of an ancient distant object that has billions of years of scarred and shattering history, without realizing it, and without having any connection to our magnified insignificance- is that the solar system is far stranger and more unexpected than we had even imagined. Pluto is bizarre. Its moons are bizarre. Its oceans are mind-blowing.
To me, I think that our with knowledge that even the parts of the universe relatively right next to us are capable of enormous surprises, combined with the recent awareness that there are billions of planets potentially capable of holding life, we’ve passed the point where anyone can reasonably say we are definitively alone in the universe. There was no single point where that happened, but we are in the middle of a major turning point for our species.
We almost certainly won’t discover life in my lifetime, the only thing that actually makes me depressed about a finite existence, and we might not ever in the timespan of humans, an end to which we weirdly accelerate. But since there is no way to reasonably of logically think that life can’t exist elsewhere, and since in an essentially endless universe that which can happen almost certainly does, it’s pretty clear we aren’t alone. I think as that awareness seeps in, over the next few generations, regardless of a major discovery, we’ll have to start to really reckon with it, morally.
I don’t, of course, think there is any impact in the knowing that somewhere, there might be life. It won’t affect us directly. But we’ll have to reconcile that with our narcissistic mythologies and increasingly witless eschatologies. That isn’t a bad thing. It might actually be the most incredible development in human history, as breathtaking as nitrogen glaciers, with no measure of man, tumbling silently to a sunless sea.