Heart, snow, Cthulhu?! How social media reacted to Pluto flyby (PHOTOS)

Image from nasa.gov
As new data comes in after NASA’s speedy New Horizons space probe successfully flew past Pluto, social networks have been flooded with images of the dwarf planet, discussing potential revelations and sharing fun Pluto-inspired fantasies.

NASA craft signals mission success

New Horizons flew past Pluto at a distance of 12,472 km (7,750 miles) – closer than any spacecraft has ever come. The craft phoned home on Tuesday night, signaling the flyby was a success.

NASA’s spacecraft had its close encounter with Pluto while traveling at a speed of 14 kilometers per second. The mission took nine years and covered 3 billion miles. The historic flyby is expected to bring in a host of new data, including images.

Pluto’s (broken) heart

The latest and most detailed image of Pluto reveals a ‘heart’ shape right across the bottom part of the dwarf planet.

However, images posted on Instagram, with exaggerated color filters, depict a broken heart with one side bigger than the other. They also show the left-hand side with more of a beige color and a smoother surface.

Some people have made fun of Pluto’s features, posting images that highlight other shapes and fictional characters. Those included Disney’s Pluto the dog, who in fact was named after the dwarf planet, since the character was introduced the same year Pluto was discovered.

Snow on Pluto?

It has been speculated that the seven scientific instruments on board the New Horizons may find evidence that it snows on the planet. Team leader Alan Stern has made assumptions earlier that Pluto showed signs of snow.

Later, Kelsi Singer, a post-doc on the New Horizons Science Team, told Reddit that if there was snow it would be “quite frictiony, like skiing on sand, because it is sooooo cold there.”

“It would not be like the snow on Earth, which is actually quite balmy compared to Pluto,” Singer wrote in the ‘Ask Me Anything’ thread.

Pluto’s unofficial map

Pluto’s features are now being unofficially named by NASA scientists and they include things that have been randomly spotted on the released image. The International Astronomical Union is collecting names for official approval.

The trending theme appears to be related to the underworld. A whale-shaped spot located to the left of the heart has been dubbed ‘Cthulhu’ – in reference to a dark deity created by Howard P. Lovecraft and described as part man, part dragon, and part octopus.

The sharpest image to date also reveals that Pluto is more than just a block of ice, having complex features like craters, snowfields and cliffs.

Pluto complexion

Images received by NASA show Pluto sporting a beige-orange surface color – not blue or grey, as many would have thought. The new orange look, which is contrary to popular depictions of the planet, has prompted comparisons to Mars, with a NASA blog post even calling it “The ‘Other’ Red Planet.”

The pictures also reveal that Pluto’s moon, Charon, has a “system of chasms” that are “larger than the grand canyon.” In comparison, Pluto’s features seem to be newer.

Stuart Robbins, a research scientist with the NASA team, said there could be two explanations for this. One is that Pluto is larger and “can retain more heat and have active geology longer.”

Furthermore, Pluto is now known to have a “tenuous atmosphere.”“During the 248-year orbit around the sun, the atmosphere sublimates from one area in sun and is deposited in another in darkness, and then this reverses half-way through the orbit,” Robbins told Reddit. “This process is very slow, relatively speaking, but so is cratering.”

Pics coming… with 4.5hr lag

As space fans await even more detailed footage of Pluto, scientists say it takes four-and-a-half hours for the light to travel from the outskirts of the Solar System to Earth, which makes downloading an image a very slow process.

“It takes over an hour for an image to be played back because of the very slow speeds over such a long distance,” Robbins wrote.

Pluto a planet?

New data has shown that Pluto is larger than previously estimated, with a diameter of 2,370 kilometers (1,472 miles). This is still smaller than the diameter of Earth’s Moon (3,476 kilometers or 2,160 miles). Pluto is estimated to be 18.5 percent the size of Earth.

Pluto was first discovered in 1930 and dubbed the ninth planet at the time. However, the title was disputed in the last quarter of the century, until it was labeled as a dwarf planet in 2006.

Pluto is the brightest member of the Kuiper Belt, part of a large number of objects orbiting the sun beyond Neptune.

Pluto’s name came from an 11-year-old girl called Venetia Burney, who proposed it be named after the Roman god of the Underworld. Burney’s grandfather suggested the name to a friend, who was an astronomy professor at Oxford University.

READ MORE: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft speeds past Pluto in closest-ever approach