Oh squeeeeeeee…… isn’t it a gorgeous picture of Pluto’s blue sky?
So why am I so excited about it?
Well, according to the scientists, the blue colour shows that not only is the planet’s atmosphere mainly made up of nitrogen, but also the solar ultraviolet light has interacted with that nitrogen to produce what are called tholins.
These tholins can also be found in the planetary atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune, and on the icy surfaces of their moons, and in Titan’s atmosphere. So they have been studied for quite a while. These tholins can protect surfaces from ultraviolet radiation that would help life to survive, but can also act as food source for carbon for certain types of microbes.
Now we know that Pluto has a very eccentric orbit that lasts 248 years. At the moment, Pluto is experiencing its summer, which is why we are seeing ices being melted and boiled off. The solar wind then drags these gases away from Pluto. So in effect we have a thin scattering of tholins beyond Pluto’s orbit.
If you get to this part of the post without having any interesting theories about what could be happening out there, then you’re not a natural science fiction writer. So let me spell it out for you… there could be microbial life scattered beyond Pluto’s orbit. Story ideas that come to mind:
- a human spaceship enters this microbial shield only to find the microbes are dangerous to humans. Humans end up trapped in the Solar System and they have to find a way out to be able to go to the stars
- the discovery of ice creatures on Pluto – what are they? – how do they look?- how do they react to the seasonal changes?
- could there be a process that involves the tholins and some types of ice that keeps Pluto warm-ish? The discovery of this process could be beneficial to Alastair Reynolds’ light huggers, making them more efficient and economical. So could we have some sort commercial rivalry story here?
O.K. I could go on and on and on ad nauseum. I’m happy for anyone to use the above ideas for science fiction stories. Of course, I’ve kept one lovely gorgeous wonderful idea for myself!