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Highest-Res Pluto Images Reveal A Complex, Beautiful World

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how difficult it can be to focus on science when the world is tearing itself apart. As this latest terrible chapter is being written into the already overwhelming history of violence on Earth, I worry I might find myself seeking solace from that post’s optimism more often than I want to.

In it, a friend reminded me that tales of science and adventure can be powerful antidotes to stories of suffering and destruction. Exploring new worlds and uncovering new knowledge? “That’s what we should be doing,” Kareem Shaheen, who covers the Middle East for the Guardian, told me.

And so today, when NASA revealed the newest images of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, I switched off everything and dove into the intricate, exotic landscapes of an alien world. These are the highest resolution images of Pluto we might see in our lifetimes — images where features smaller than a football stadium are visible. In them, we see jumbled blocks of ice-mountains that look as though they’re being pushed to the shoreline of a frozen sea that’s bubbling in slow motion. Impacts that excavated chunks of Pluto’s surface reveal curiously colored layers beneath its crust. There are pits and ridges that look as though they’ve been stretched and bent as Pluto’s ices move across its surface, areas where erosion has sculpted some intricate landscapes, and things I’m having a hard time even describing.

There’s no question that exploring this distant, icy world is a story about the human mind and spirit at its best; so give yourself a break and zoom over these Plutoscapes.

8 thoughts on “Highest-Res Pluto Images Reveal A Complex, Beautiful World

  1. Nadia,
    I very much like the notion that the wonder of science can be an antidote to the craziness of the human condition. Somehow our ability to believe and wonder about seemingly impossible things is both a strength (when we use it to unravel the mysteries of nature) and a weakness (when we allow ourselves to construct mental fantasies that lead to mayhem).

    Thanks for the Pluto break 🙂

  2. Nadia, I remember when Bill Ciinton came out of a meeting with the militaria of the Pentagon with some misbehaviour by an Arab extremist state towards an embassy. He was still wearing a look like he wanted to own the global sheriff’s badge and set up a possie and go out and covertly sort out those nasty extremists, but the badge was getting heavy. And he talked to the camera and waiting media about the ‘development of a proportionate response’. The need was obvious: ‘tit-for-tat’ exchanges could escalate the situation, but he wanted to make there be some penalty otherwise it would become progressively brazen and soon transform a moderate nation into an extremist led foe. Perhaps the proportionate response is to send the foes just the reminder that the universe is completely indifferent to the squabbles of humanity with an image of the surface of Pluto.

  3. Thanks for this amazing story about Pluto!

    I can see myself walking on those icy shores, climbing those mountains, throwing snowball or iceballs of nitrogen ice!

    Space exploration gives us hope for a different world!

    Thanks again for sharing this hope with us!

  4. Isn’t it ironic? No sooner than Pluto being demoted from planet status, we get back these views showing what an interesting place it actually is! These photos are AWESOME!

  5. I dream of a time when visiting other worlds was as common and visiting other countries.
    Imagine, taking a trip to Pluto for a much needed break from all the stress at work.

    “Hey Boss, I’m using my two week vacation leave and head for Pluto.”

    Thanks for the article!

  6. You stated erosion has sculpted the badlands of Pluto. How is that possible with no rain or atmosphere to produce winds? The photos look like areas in Death Valley but there’s lots of rain and wind sculpting happening here.

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