Methane ice on Pluto’s mountain peaks

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New images from New Horizons of the dark Cthulhu region have revealed white-capped mountain peaks, thought to be methane ice.

Scientists think this bright material could be predominantly methane that has condensed as ice onto the peaks from Pluto’s atmosphere. “That this material coats only the upper slopes of the peaks suggests methane ice may act like water in Earth’s atmosphere, condensing as frost at high altitude,” said John Stansberry, a New Horizons science team member from Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland.

We as humans are attracted to features on other worlds that remind us of Earth, mainly because this allows us to quickly understand what we are seeing. It is important however to remind ourselves continually that Pluto is not Earth, and is in fact a very alien place. Many things we think we recognize are really very different than what we assume. For example, the methane ice here is coating mountains made of water ice that is as stable as granite in Pluto’s super cold environment.

One more thing: It appears that at this point, seven months after New Horizons flew past Pluto, they have still only downloaded less than half the data obtained. This is not a problem, as this is how things were planned, but it does mean that there are likely many more discoveries yet for us to see.


  • PeterF

    There is a theory that life on earth is possible because water is available in all three states. That alien life may be possible on the outer cold planets and moons based on methane that can be found in all three states. I believe it was E.E. “doc” Smith that wrote fiction in the 50s and 60s with aliens that were horrified to encounter humans with “molten” H2O in their veins. Perhaps the molten sulfur on Io could support a life form like the Horta rock creature from Star Trek.

  • wayne


    PeterF mentioned “E. E. ‘doc’ Smith.
    Yes, I seem to recall to which you are referring, will do some digging.

    All you folks are great! -Use to be a huge comic & Pulp fan in my younger days.(well, still am…) have about 20 issues left of Amazing Stories circa 1939-1946, but alas, no Smith issues.

    The “..dark Cthulhu region..,” — totally did not know that factoid & pleasantly surprised the folks at Nasa know of H.P. Lovecraft!

    Total tangent, if I might; Comics & Pulps were a steady 10 cents/issue for literally decades, because our money was a LOT more stable in the past.

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