NASA recently unveiled curious-looking high-resolution images of the Sputnik Planum region of the dwarf planet Pluto, sent back to Earth by the New Horizons space probe during its flyby of Pluto last July.
The image of Pluto’s icy Sputnik Planum — captured on July 14, 2015, by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imaging instrument (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft — was one of several photos of Pluto’s surface transmitted back to Earth from the space probe on December 24.
NASA published the image on January 7.
The dark form or object shown in the image immediately caught the attention of UFO and alien enthusiasts, sparking a debate that led to the predictable conclusion that the photo could be evidence of alien life on Pluto. Some space anomaly analysts said it was, in fact, a species of giant snail native to the dwarf planet Pluto.
“Something strange going on down there!”
“It’s 100% definitely a space snail.”
“For those of you who, without question, believe the NASA images of Pluto are real, Google ‘Did NASA fake the Pluto image?’ on YT… It’s a real eye opener… “
“Truly amazing photos but I wish they had put a scale on the ‘snail’ photo!”
“NASA experts believe the object may be a ‘dirty block of water ice’.” Defund NASA now.”
“It’s Santa on his sled!”
“I’m okay with space snails, but if it sees a Starbucks, we have a problem.”
But NASA moved quickly to counter the speculation.
According to NASA scientists, what the photo shows is probably a dirty iceberg — contaminated by debris — floating on denser solid nitrogen on the Sputnik Planum. The dirty icebergs appear as domed, irregular-shaped forms that could be as large as a building.
The Sputnik Planum is an icy plane composed of a deep sea of solid nitrogen, stretching hundreds of miles. The dirty icebergs are thrown by convection currents to the surface of the Sputnik Planum along troughs dividing the plain of solid nitrogen into irregular cells.
Each cell of solid nitrogen is a polygonal shape about 10-25 miles wide.
According to New Horizons scientist William McKinnon, blobs of solid nitrogen rise like bubbles to the surface of the Sputnik Planum after they are warmed slightly by Pluto’s internal heat. The warming makes them lose density, and causes them to float or rise to the surface.
“This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp; if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as – and even deeper than – the Hudson Bay,” McKinnon said.
What look like snail slime trails are the troughs formed by the perimeters of contiguous blobs of solid nitrogen. The convection current also throws up dirty icebergs that settle in the troughs.
But even scientists acknowledge that the dark iceberg in the photo bears an uncanny resemblance to a giant snail, and that the troughs between the bubbles of solid nitrogen look like giant slime trails on the surface of Pluto.
The Sputnik Planum is situated to the left of the dwarf planet’s famous “icy heart.” As noted earlier, it is not entirely a plain. It is composed of blobs of solid nitrogen with elevated centers and valleys where the blobs meet along their perimeters.
The new images were sent back to Earth on Christmas Eve, about five months after NASA scientists had their first glimpse of the surface of the distant dwarf planet.
[Image via NASA]