The Occasional Journal
Entry No. 15 - 10th October 2015
Pluto: The "Trantor" Planet?
Part 1 - The Other Side of Pluto
In Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy of novels Trantor is the capital planet of the Galactic Empire. Apart from the emperor's palace and pleasure gardens, the whole surface of Trantor is encased in one huge city. This city was entirely roofed over with metal, which effectively made it one planet wide arcology.
(An arcology is a single self contained habitat able to house the population of a town or city - or in the case of the fictional Trantor city, a whole planet).
Figure 1 - One artist's envisaging of the planet Trantor
As the New Horizons spacecraft approached Pluto in July 2015 it was apparent that one side of the dwarf planet was completely covered with some kind of rectilinear, maze-like pattern. Was it possible that this huge area had been artificially re-arranged? Was something similar to Asimov's Trantor City covering half the surface of Pluto?
Therefore, it was a great disappointment to learn that New Horizons would be making its closest fly-by of Pluto on the opposite side of the planet. Our next visit to Pluto could be as far away as January 2039, (see µµµ).
The poster below displays an analysis of the closest image of the "Trantor" side of Pluto. The first picture shows this image as it was published. (The original can be downloaded from here µµµ).
The second picture is a contrast enhanced and sharpened version of the first. The maze-like, rectilinear patterns can clearly be seen. What was amazing is that the pattern appeared to be a 3D one formed out of linear mountain ridges and valleys. Could such high relief exist on such a frozen little world? Was it just an optical illusion formed by different ground coloration?
When New Horizons made its closest approach the first image sent back to Earth showed the three mile high Norgay Mountains. So yes, the "Trantor" side of Pluto could be covered with a pattern of features as high as the Alps. The third, enlarged, image in the poster display certainly appears to show that the maze-like pattern is a gargantuan 3D landscape. It also looks like an out-of-focus aerial picture of some magnificent ruined city.
Figure 2 - Image enhancements of the "Trantor" side of Pluto
The final image in the poster display above has been "locally equalised". This is not really an enhancement method as it tends to destroy parts of the image. However, it can be used to make more subtle features stand out more starkly.
As the New Horizons spacecraft approached the fly-by side of Pluto it was able to see some of the "Trantor" side of the planet creeping over the limb of the planet. This imagery was at a higher resolution than that seen above in Figure 1.
In Figure 3 the criss-crossing pattern of straight ridges and troughs that was seen fuzzily in Figure 1 can now be seen clearly in its full 3D glory. The "Trantor" side of Pluto must be truly remarkable when seen from a closer distance. At higher resolutions It may even look more artificial than it does in Figure 1. (Original image from here µµµ).
Figure 3 - "Trantor City" spreads over onto the fly-by side of Pluto
Richard C.Hoagland's Imaginative Scenario
Pluto is so far from the Sun that water freezes as hard as granite and its atmosphere coats its surface as a thick layer of ice. Indeed, one of its recently discovered wonders is the nitrogen glaciers flowing away from the cryo-volcanic eruption of the Sputnik plain.
Richard Hoagland has suggested that Pluto wasn't always this far away from the Sun. In his scenario the proposed advanced civilisation of millions of years ago artificially moved Pluto into an orbit closer to the Sun.
The idea of moving planets was an outlandish one until 2001 when a NASA backed study showed how "easily" it could be done. (See here µµµ for details). In two previous Occasional Journal articles Cydonia Quest has itself searched for evidence that the planetary orbits of the Solar System might have been re-arranged by an ancient advanced civilisation. (See µµµ and µµµ).
Hoagland's scenario is even bolder than this. One of the reasons that Pluto was demoted to "dwarf planet" status was because it is suspected that it is just one of hundreds of dwarf planets orbiting beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt. Several of these dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt have already been discovered. In the Hoagland scenario ALL of these hundreds of dwarf planets were moved into orbits inside the warm "goldilocks" zone - neither too warm nor too cold - that the Earth orbits in.
Figure 4 - The known dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune
In order to keep these hundreds of dwarf worlds in stable orbits and from colliding with anything, the "planet movers" would probably need to be able to control gravity. They would effectively have created a partial Dyson Sphere.
In a total Dyson Sphere a very advanced civilisation builds a complete shell around a star within its "goldilocks zone". The interior surface of the shell is then provided with an atmosphere and plenty of water for rivers and lakes. This inner surface then becomes a habitable surface of mind-blowing dimensions. A Dyson Sphere filling Earth's orbit would be 93 million miles across - compared to Earths diameter of around 8,000 miles. Moving hundreds of dwarf planets into the "goldilocks zone" would be a less ambitious project, but it would have the same effect of increasing inhabitable surface area. (For more on Dyson Spheres see µµµ).
In Richard Hoagland's scenario the hundreds of dwarf planets were moved back to the Kuiper Belt for safety when the ancient civilisation collapsed. This might have been done by artificial intelligence systems tasked with the responsibility. Pluto, which would have had a nitrogen & methane atmosphere - and probably a watery surface - returned to its deep frozen state.
In Part Two we will search for Trantor-like landscapes on the fly-by side of Pluto.
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