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Pluto Has Snakeskin? Perplexing New Photo

Sep 26, 2015 05:21 PM EDT
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(Photo : NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI) In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. -Tricia Talbert, NASA  Click here for a wider view

NASA recently released another dazzling and high-resolution photo from Pluto's breathtaking surface, revealing mysterious rippling landscapes that resemble the uniform scales of a snake. "Unique and perplexing," the New Horizon's team is calling it, admitting they have absolutely no clue what could shape these ridges.

"It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology," William McKinnon, the deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team, said in a recent statement.

[To see more stunning photos from Pluto and learn more, check out our latest feature!]

For past discoveries revealed by the intrepid spacecraft New Horizons, researchers often could compare geological formations found on Pluto to those we see on Earth. If a formation was similar, the process that made it (weather, volcanoes, etc) would likely be just a similar.

This was the case for stunning low-lying hazes and churning icy fields seen on Pluto - fields that, while nitrogen-based, are uncannily similar to snowfall and glacial flow cycles seen at our own big blue planet's ice caps.

That's also what make's this "snakeskin" discovery a bit different. There is nothing quite like it on Earth, according to McKinnon.

"Maybe it's some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto's faint sunlight," he added. "This'll really take time to figure out."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

 - follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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