Call of Cthulhu — Can we uncover the secret of Pluto’s red spots?

Featuring image: Pluto is an icy object in the outer solar system. Its surface it not only covered by ice, but also by an unidentified red material. The largest of these red areas is the Cthulhu region in the southern hemisphere. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI, public domain (CC0)

Paper: Testing tholins as analogues of the dark reddish material covering Pluto’s Cthulhu region

Authors: M. Fayolle, E. Quirico, B. Schmitt, L. Jovanovic, T. Gautier, N. Carrasco, W. Grundy, V. Vuitton, O. Poch, S. Protopapa, L. Young, D. Cruikshank, C. Dalle Ore, T. Bertrand, A. Stern

Pluto is an icy object beyond Neptune. Its surface is not only covered by innocent pale ice, but also by mysterious dark-red fields. What lurks in these hellish regions and where do they come from?

Far behind Neptune’s orbit, the icy body Pluto orbits our Sun. Pluto got a lot of attention in 2006, when it lost its status as a planet. Since then, it remained as a trans neptunian objects (TNO) of major interest. In 2015, Pluto presented itself in high resolution pictures for the first time in history, when NASA’s space probe New Horizons explored the outer regions of our solar system. What the pictures showed, was not the expected icy desert, but multiple areas of deep red all over Pluto’s surface. The largest of them is located on the southern hemisphere. As a homage to the master of subtle horror, H. P. Lovecraft, the area is called Cthulhu region, because some of the most mysterious and powerful beings in Lovecraft’s world originate from Pluto (in Lovecraft’s stories called Yuggoth). Fayolle and co-workers tried to better understand the origin of these red materials by using laboratory experiments and numerical modelling in comparison with the data recorded by the New Horizons space probe.

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Mineralogy on other worlds

Featuring image: Titan seen in infrared light. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona, public domain (CC0)

Paper: Titan in a Test Tube: Organic Co-crystals and Implications for Titan Mineralogy

Authors: M. L. Cable, T. Runčevski, H. E. Maynard-Casely, T. H. Vu and R. Hodyss

Titan, Saturn largest moon, is a strange world. Its surface is covered by ice, dunes and haze of organic molecules and lakes of liquid methane. It even rains. The diversity of surface features may remind us of our own home planet, but the chemistry between these two celestial bodies lies worlds apart.

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Oxia Planum: ExoMars 2022 Landing Site

Featured Image: Artist’s impression of ESA’s ExoMars rover ‘Rosalind Franklin’ on the surface of Mars. Credit: ESA.

Paper: Oxia Planum: The Landing Site for the ExoMars “Rosalind Franklin” Rover Mission: Geological Context and Prelanding Interpretation

Authors: Quantin-Nataf et al., 2021

We are entering a new dawn of Mars exploration: Perseverance rover touched down on Mars earlier this year, which marks the start of what will be a decade-long effort to return samples from Mars. In 2022 the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the ExoMars rover, which will team up with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to find evidence of past or present life on Mars.

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Out of this world! Evaluating the presence of lava tubes on other planets and the potential for future human habitats

Paper: Lava tubes on Earth, Moon and Mars: A review on their size and morphology revealed by comparative planetology

Authors: F. Sauro, R. Pozzobon, M. Massironi, P. De Berardinis, T. Santagata, J. De Waele

Editor’s note: due to an editorial mixup, two Geobites authors—unbeknownst to each other—wrote about the same paper. We encourage readers to take advantage of this opportunity to learn how two different geoscientists would describe the same exciting development in their field. The other post is here.

Ever since humankind set foot on the surface of the Moon in 1969, the question of whether one day the human race would inhabit other planets has been pondered over. As a result of the return of samples collected by the Apollo astronauts, and the delivery of meteorites to the Earth, scientists are continuously learning about the geological evolution of other planets.

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