An enigmatic line across Pluto: Plutonian canali!?
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla
09-06-2015 19:03 CDT
Pluto and Charon are growing larger in New Horizons' forward view, beginning to develop distinct personalities. Pluto: larger, brighter, but with dark splotches on its surface. Charon: smaller, dimmer, its features still hidden. Here's the very latest from the New Horizons raw image website: the best image ever taken of Pluto and Charon.
If you're an image processing magician like Björn Jónsson, you can take several images like these and stack and sharpen them to reveal more detail than can be perceived in any single photo. Björn took four images from June 6 and produced this.
See that diagonal line running across it? Björn is certain that it's an actual feature. Yay! Dark lines criscrossing a disk! It's the discovery of canali on Pluto! We have reached Schiaparelli-quality mapping of Pluto's surface!
I am not entirely joking when I evoke Martian canali here. Schiaparelli was one of the great astronomers of his day. Many of his peers also saw canali on Mars, including Percival Lowell, whose name graces the observatory that was used to discover Pluto. I find it fitting that the first new "feature" observable on Pluto is an enigmatic dark line, recapitulating the history of the exploration of Mars and Venus. Fortunately, we need only wait a few weeks more to learn whether the line is an artifact built by an alien civilization to transport valuable liquids across the Plutonian surface* -- or if it's something else entirely. My money is on the latter!