The Occasional Journal
Entry No. 16 - 29th October 2015
Pluto: The "Trantor" Planet?
Part 2 - Here be Dragons ...
In Part 1 we looked at the curiously grid-like arrangement of mountain ranges and valleys on the far-side of Pluto. If the reader wishes to compare different images of Pluto's far-side, then Keith Laney has a web-page especially dedicated to far-side pictures. All the images on the page can be clicked upon to access larger versions. (Click here µµµ).
In Part 2 we continue our search for evidence for a Trantor-like super city onto the fly-by side of Pluto.
A huge surprise in the first fly-by imagery of Pluto was the existence of chains of towering mountains that were assumed to be made from ice. It was also immediately apparent (to those who look for arcologies on the surfaces of alien worlds) that many of these mountains seemed to be hollowing out from their centres. This put onto the table the possibility that these mountains were actually huge arcologies encased by Pluto's frozen atmosphere. In this scenario the destructive weight of ice and the abrasion of micro-meteorites was slowly revealing their true artificial natures.
(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).
Listeners to Richard C.Hoagland's Other Side of Midnight radio show will know that Keith Laney has already extensively catalogued possible arcologies under the flight path of the New Horizons spacecraft. Figure 1 shows a particularly intriguing area that Laney has named "Arcology Row".
As can be seen the proposed arcologies have solid, steep outer slopes - but their interiors are eroding downwards in a way that appears to expose structural partitions within their interiors.
Over the course of 2015 and 2016 the New Horizons spacecraft will be sending back to Earth higher resolution imagery that may add to evidence that this pattern of erosion is artificial and not a fluke of nature.
Figure 1 - "At the Mountains of Madness" - an example of possible Arcologies on Pluto
(In H.P. Lovecroft's story At the Mountains of Madness explorers stumble across the ruins of an ancient alien city under the Antarctic ice cap. Of course the city isn't entirely deserted....or safe...).
Figure 1 shows how "Arcology Row" is a small part of a long mountain chain that stretches down the western side/shore of Sputnik Planum. This extremely flat plain seems to be the result of some kind of cryo-volcanic eruption. It has a very similar appearance to the "frozen" lava seas of our own Moon - only the Sputnik plain seems to be the result of Pluto's icy crust melting, rather than rock.
The seas/maria of the Moon were the result of impacts by large asteroids. The cause of the Sputnik outflow is unknown, but it has been recently active as evidenced by the glaciers of nitrogen ice wending from the plain into the surrounding landscape. The hypothesised melting event that created the plain also appears to have cracked-up the ice crust in areas surrounding Sputnik.
The flow of Sputnik ices around the bases of many of the proposed arcologies suggests they predate the melting event. It is possible that the mountains/arcologies on the western "shoreline" of Sputnik once extended further eastwards, but that the melting event destroyed them as a temporary liquid sea was formed beneath them. The surface of Sputnik is currently covered in methane and carbon monoxide ice. Underneath this is probably re-frozen water.
The Dragon Scales
One landscape that has particularly mystified the New Horizons mission team has been the surface of the Tartarus Dorsa mountains. The mission team initially called the strangely textured surface the "snake skin". However, because snakes usually have smooth scales - and the surface seen in Tartarus Dorsa is rough - science journalists began to call this type of surface "dragon scales". (See µµµ).
New Horizons imaged the "dragon scales" at an oblique angle due to the acute surface curvature of such a small planet. However, the mission team have created a special composite image of Pluto that rectifies the curvature effect of the areas around Sputnik Planum. In this adjusted image features are displayed as if we were seeing them directly from above. This allows us to discern whether there might be any pattern in the layout of the "dragon scales".
Figure 2 shows the footprint of this rectified image, together with the locations of the "dragon scales" and the candidate arcologies that were discussed above. It is highly likely that the "dragon scales" continue across Pluto's terminator onto the far side of the dwarf planet. Features near the top of this special image are very stretched out, but become properly rectified in the bottom half. The full sized image can be found here µµµ.
Figure 2 - The footprint of the Rectified Image
The poster in Figure 3 concentrates on the area of the rectified image that stretches out from the eastern shore of Sputnik Planum. (Sputnik has all the characteristics of a sea of liquid that has been frozen solid). Image "A" in the poster is a reduced version of the area under study. The reader can more clearly see features in images "A", "B1" and "C" by increasing the zoom on their web browser. I've found that in Internet Explorer a zoom of 200% works well for these images.
Image "B1" shows the most pronounced area of "dragon scales", whilst "B2" shows an image enlargement for part of this area. Superficially, the mountainous "scales" look like the twisting hedges in some giant's maze. Closer examination reveals them to be more like vertical walls, rather than mountain ridges. These "walls" tend to completely enclose areas in a random grid - so the "dragon scales" begin to resemble what Trantor in ruins might look like.
If the "dragon scales" are the remains of a planet wide giga-city arcology, then the structure will have been heavily encrusted with ice. This ice will not only be obscuring the true form of this ruined structure, but its weight will also have helped to collapse and deform much of it.
Figure 3 - The "Trantor City" aspects of the Dragon Scales area of Pluto
Viewing notes: Many readers will benefit from viewing these images at a higher browser zoom and in "full screen" mode. For "full screen" press the F11 key to enter "full screen" and then F11 again to return to the normal browser view. For increasing the browser "zoom" by increments hold down the control key (Ctrl) and press the plus key (+) and repeat until the desired zoom is reached. To return to standard zoom hold down the control key and press the zero key (0). For further tips about browser adjustment click here µµµ.
Image "C" in Figure 3 shows the area in the bottom-left part of image "A". It can be seen that the pattern of "dragon scale" walls is also apparent in this area - but on a less dramatic scale than in the area of image "B1" and "B2".
As image "C" is viewed from east to west towards the shore of Sputnik Planum (on the left side of the picture) the "scales" seem to sink into the ground - which they may well have done. The ground becomes very flat here and appears to have melted in the same cryo-volcanic event that created Sputnik Planum.
At the bottom-centre of image "C" there are some very large structures that have been displayed in enlarged format at the bottom of the Figure 3 poster. These may be the thin outer shells of super large arcology ruins that are now open to the sky.
Are these "arcology shells" and the "dragon scales" just the result of a freakish pattern of evaporation of Pluto's ice surface? This seems to be the most popular natural explanation for Pluto's extremely complex "science fiction" surface, as the New Horizons mission head dubbed it.
Hopefully as the data from the fly-by is slowly returned to Earth we will get much higher resolution images of all of these curious anomalies. Will this reveal even finer scale features that look like artificial structure?
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