The New Horizons probe just flew through its closest approach to Pluto, and is executing its minutely detailed plan. Fingers on keys and its robotic spirochetes are spacelike-separated events.
The detail in the most recent photograph of Pluto — radioed as an assurance of success in the event that something hit the spacecraft during the last few hours — leaves the impression of a world that has been painted. Eons of weak geysers, subtle rarefied winds, and the sepia tones of photochemistry have combined to produce the illusion of shadow, oil pigments and diffuse lighting that eerily evoke this newly discovered portrait by Rembrandt.
First thing every morning, I check the raw images from New Horizons. Today there is a fresh set. The Independence Day glitch has been left millions of miles behind, and only days remain until arrival.
Pluto’s current remove seems to lie at a point of heightened mystery. Mottled patches and curiously regular features are starting to fill the frame.
The detail seems reminiscent of Mars seen through a refracting telescope, and brings to mind Percival Lowell’s drawings that combined real features and artifacts in a tantalizing juxtoposition.
Lowell’s drawing is from 1894. It was still a lifetime — seventy years — before Mariner 4 rushed past Mars and radioed cratered, disappointing close-ups of of the Martian surface. Undaunted, I rode my paper route during the early summer of 1976, concocting vivid premonitions that the first pictures from the Viking I lander would provide some shocking, irrefutable vista of fossils, sandblasted ruins and crashed saucers.
A more quantitative, but effectively similar vein of speculation informed this article by Loeb and Turner from a few years ago:
We need wait only another hundred hours or so if there is to be a view of Pluto’s lit-up cities of the night.