Thursday morning, my colleague Alan Taylor dropped into our company chat platform, to share two breathtaking images of Pluto, minutes after they were released by NASA’s New Horizons mission.
It’s not every day that you see, for the very first time, sunlight glinting off ice-encrusted mountains, on a world that sits more than 4 billion miles away. My colleagues and I were unanimous in our gasping, profane responses. There was a heart-eyed emoji, an “omg,” several instances of “Holy shit!” and even a “Just fucking WOW.”
Science writers on Twitter greeted the images with similar enthusiasm. “Drop everything and look at these Pluto pictures,” tweeted Emily Lakdawalla, from the Planetary Society. “Woah, Pluto” tweeted Michael Moyer, of Quanta. “Dang, these pictures of Pluto. We live in an astonishing age.” tweeted The New Yorker’s Kathryn Schulz.
The most charming and widely retweeted response came from planetary scientist Alex Parker, who works on the New Horizons mission. “Sunset on Pluto. Perhaps the most spectacular [image] I have ever seen,” he tweeted. And indeed, sunset on Pluto is spectacular:
And yet, sublime as they may be, the Pluto pics don’t even qualify as this week’s most interesting data dispatch from the outer solar system. On Tuesday, a team of scientists led by Cornell’s Peter Thomas published a paper confirming the presence of a subsurface ocean on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. The ocean, you will recall, is where life is thought to have originated on our planet, Earth.