Pluto is Still Extremely Weird in the Latest Image From NASA

By Andrew Liptak on at

NASA has released a new image of Pluto’s Tartarus Dorsa, the ‘bladed’ region to the east of the heart-shaped formation known as the Tombaugh Region. The 3D image reminds us of how weird the dwarf planet is.

Pluto is Still Extremely Weird in the Latest Image From NASA

You can use regular 3D glasses to take a look at the image, which shows off terrain unlike anything we’ve found in all of our exploration of the solar system:

The blades are the dominant feature of a broad area informally named Tartarus Dorsa. They align from north to south, reach hundreds of feet high and are typically spaced a few miles apart. This remarkable landform, unlike any other seen in our solar system, is perched on a much broader set of rounded ridges that are separated by flat valley floors.

Pluto is Still Extremely Weird in the Latest Image From NASA
The Bladed Terrain of Tartarus Dorsa. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto’s ‘snakeskin’ terrain has baffled astronomers ever since we first got a good glimpse of it back in September. A couple of weeks ago, astronomer Orkan Umurhan theorised in a blog post that the methane ice could be responsible for the steep structures:

The answer is a meek “maybe.” To date, there are only two known published studies examining the rheological properties (i.e., how much a material deforms when stresses are applied to it) of methane ice in the extreme temperature range of Pluto—a bitterly cold -300 to -400 degrees Fahrenheit [-184- -250 C]. According to one study, the answer is a definite ‘no,’ because methane ice of those dimensions would flatten out in a matter of decades. Yet in another study, methane ice may maintain such a steepened structure if the individual CH4 ice grains constituting the collective ice are large enough. Which study is right? Or is there a way to reconcile them? This is something we simply do not know at the moment.

The 3D picture was taken at a distance of one million miles and combines two images from New Horizon’s Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera.