If “X-Files” are defined as data about weird and alien phenomena, NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto has X-Files galore. And this week, the mission’s science team shared an X-File with an actual X on it.
The timing of Thursday’s image release couldn’t be much better, coming just a couple of weeks before “The X-Files” (the TV show, that is) returns to Fox for a six-episode run. But this is no publicity stunt; rather, it illustrates how weird geology can get on a world that features glaciers of frozen nitrogen.
The semi-solid nitrogen in a region informally known as Sputnik Planum slowly burbles up and down, due to thermal convection. When blobs of nitrogen rise up and press against each other, patterns of lines mark the boundaries between the blobs. When the blobs subside, the lines disappear.
“This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp, if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, the Hudson Bay,” William McKinnon, a researcher from Washington University in St. Louis who’s the deputy lead of the New Horizons geology, geophysics and imaging team, said in a NASA feature.
The results can be seen in a mosaic of Sputnik Planum imagery.