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Saturday 26 September 2015

Pluto, the Dragon Skinned planet....

We have no idea how this formed:

"We have no idea how this formed" I love it when a space missions team say that - it means they've found something interesting. The New Horizons team have revealed even more data from Pluto, including the discovery of 'Snakeskin terrain', and landscape that looks like nothing on any world we've ever explored:

Above: The mysterious terrain wioth its weird parralel ridges....

William McKinnon, a New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team deputy lead from Washington University in St. Louis, said “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.
The latest data set also contains information on the colours of Pluto - blues, yellows, pinks, and deep red....

Above, the colours of Pluto, courtesy of NASA. Click vand save the image to get the hugely enlargeable version and explore Pluto yourself!
The coast of Pluto's glacier sea, courtesy of NASA: Click and save the image to get the hugely enlargeable version.

.... and some of the data on the composition of the Plutonian surface is starting to come in, like this map  of methane abundance:

Above: A map of methane concentrations on Pluto. Courtesy of NASA.

There're also a lot of new and perplexing images of Pluto's largest moon, Charon - but I think there's be more on Charon coming in a few weeks time. In the meanwhile you can find all the recent images here.

Speaking of methane, whatever happened to the 'Mars revelation':

Ahem, yes. In my last post I reported that, according to this source, there was some big news about methane (a possible indicator of life) coming from the Indian MOM mission. While some new images have been released to mark MOM's 1 year anniversary in orbit there's no sign of any announcement about a methane related discovery. Rumour has it that there is a discovery in the data, but someone jumped the gun and let something leak without respecting the proper peer review process and embargoes.

Above: One of the stunning new images from MOM. Courtesy of ISRO

But worry not Mars fans, it's NASA to the rescue....

NASA have a big 'mystery solved' announcement to make on Monday the 28th

Right now no-one has any idea what it's about, so all we can do is watch this space.... but there is a clue in the list of scientists giving the conference, perhaps: Lujendra Ojha, of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, is on the panel, and he's known for the theory that strange features called recurring slope linea are evidence of salty water flowing during the warmer months. That's totally unconfirmed, but it would gel with evidence from the Curiosity rover that tiny amounts of salt water are forming at its location even today.

Above: Recurring Slope Linea. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL.

Rosetta finds comets have a way of replenishing their surface ice:

How comets replenish the ice on their surfaces has always been a bit of a head scratcher, but now the Rosetta team have an answer: The heat from the sun can penetrate deeper into the comet and become trapped by insulating layers, making buried ice evaporate and then freeze onto the surface as the frigid cometary night falls

Above A comparison of ice abundance and surface temperature for an area of comet 67-P. Courtesy of ESA

...and also finds argon:

Argon, an nonreactive noble gas, may not seem that interesting. But it's dull nonreactive nature is its hidden strength - it persists unchanged across billions of years and can be a useful tracer of how things were billions of years ago. So the team behind the ROSINA instrument on the Rosetta mission are being tantalised by the discovery of an argon reserve on comet 67-P, which could help them unravel the solar systems earliest history.... 

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