July 24, 2015 spike

Pluto: A Brand-New World

After traveling more than 3 billion miles, the New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto earlier this month. Now Pluto is all over the news, and for good reason.

All the other planets in our Solar System had already been visited by spacecraft. Pluto was the last planet that we hadn’t yet explored.

Oh, wait. A few years ago, Pluto got demoted. It isn’t a planet anymore.

Let me re-phrase that statement then.

Pluto was the last former planet that we hadn’t yet explored.1

Even though we’re only starting2 to get back images and data from New Horizons, the results are already spectacular.

Not only is Pluto “new” in the sense of nobody seeing it before, it also looks new in the more natural sense of the word…

A Surprisingly Young World

Secular scientists believe Pluto is 4.6 billion years old. And so, they expected Pluto to look that way.

Surprise! Its surface looks very young instead.

Smooth craterless terrain on Pluto.

To assess the age of a body in the Solar System (a planet, moon, etc.), astronomers count the impact craters on the surface.

The idea here is simple. The older something is, the longer it’s been sitting there getting struck by impactors. So, a higher number of impact craters indicates a higher age.

Of course, this doesn’t directly tell us much more than that. To calculate a specific age, you must make all sorts of assumptions about cratering rates in the past—assumptions that cannot be verified.

But one thing seems clear. If an object were really billions of years old, it would have accumulated a substantial number of craters on its surface by now.

The Case of the Missing Craters

Secular astronomers expected Pluto and its moons to be covered in craters.

Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

But that’s not what New Horizons has found.

In the images we’ve received so far, there are few impact craters visible. Some of the images don’t appear to have any craters at all.

As an article in the New York Times noted, secular scientists are “at a loss to explain” what they are seeing. They are “baffled” by the images.3

This applies not only to Pluto, but also to its moon Charon. Deputy project scientist Catherine Olkin expected Charon to be “an ancient terrain covered in craters.” Instead, “Charon just blew our socks off.”

Missing Craters: Evidence for Recent Geological Activity

A lack of craters can mean two things: either no craters ever formed there, or else they formed and then were erased later.

The first idea (that large areas of Pluto never had any craters) seems unreasonable. Most other bodies in the Solar System are heavily cratered, and there’s no obvious reason why Pluto should be any different.

Plus, at least one image of Pluto’s surface includes smooth terrain on one side, and cratered terrain on the other. This appears similar to some regions on the Moon, where it appears that craters formed, and then were filled in later by volcanic activity.

Cratered terrain next to smooth plains.

Therefore, it seems reasonable that the parts of Pluto that are currently smooth, did have some craters before. But Pluto’s surface has been reworked somehow, and those craters are now gone.

The problem for secular astronomers is this: the reworking had to be very recent (because the reworked surface has accumulated very few craters since it occurred). And there’s no apparent way for this recent resurfacing to have happened, if Pluto were actually billions of years old.

Pluto is a very small world (even smaller than the Earth’s Moon). If it were billions of years old, it should have cooled off from its formation eons ago. It should not be geologically active anymore. There’s no source of energy for any such geological activity.

And so, its surface should be old, and full of craters that formed after the geological activity stopped, billions of years ago. Instead, the surface looks very young.

It’s “Only” 100 Million Years Old

A NASA article describes an image of the Tombaugh Regio on Pluto: “a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geological processes.”

One hundred million years sounds like a long time. But in comparison to how old Pluto’s terrain was supposed to be (which is 4.6 billion years), it’s nothing.

Here’s how you could illustrate this. Let’s say you had a piece of rope that was 10 feet long, and you decided it represented 100 million years. Now you wanted to get a second piece that was proportionate to the first, so that it accurately represented 4.6 billion years. How long would this second piece need to be?

The answer is 460 feet. (That’s more than one and a half football fields long.)

See how 100 million years is negligible, compared to how old Pluto was supposed to be?

Here’s another way to look at it. 100 million is one-tenth of one billion. So, if Pluto’s surface was supposed to be 4.6 billion years old, but turns out to be only 100 million instead (which is .1 billion), then…

Pluto’s Surface is 4.5 Billion Years Younger Than It Was Supposed to Be

It turns out though that even an age as high as 100 million years isn’t justified.

Notice that the NASA article admitted that Pluto “is possibly still being shaped by geological processes.”

In other words, there’s no real evidence for millions of years.

For all we know, Pluto’s surface might be, say, just a few thousand years old. That fits the evidence too.

But somehow, secular astronomers just can’t bring themselves to utter any sentence that includes the phrase “thousands of years.”

Instead, they have to tell the public that the surface is millions of years old, even when there’s no evidence for this.

And there’s a broader issue here that’s worth mentioning.

Which Viewpoint Is More Consistent with the Evidence?

Secular scientists expected Pluto to be an ancient object, with little water on its surface. (Previous observations hadn’t shown much evidence for water on Pluto.)

Conversely, the Bible says Pluto is young, having been created just a few thousand years ago. Moreover, 2 Peter 3:5 hints that the Earth (and by extension, perhaps the other planets too), were made from water.

So what did the New Horizons spacecraft find, when it arrived at Pluto? A world that looks extremely young… with mountains made of frozen water!

Ice Mountains on Pluto.
Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

Pluto has a mountain range almost as tall as the Rockies, with peaks rising 11,000 feet above the surface. However, the mountains aren’t made from rock. They appear to be made from water ice.

There’s even some speculation that they could be ‘ice volcanoes’: mountains of frozen water that don’t emit lava, but something far more exotic, such as liquid nitrogen.

In addition to this, New Horizons has been measuring Pluto’s atmosphere. It appears that the atmosphere is being stripped away by the solar wind, and being blown off into space.

Hmm. Has Pluto really been losing its atmosphere for billions of years? Or does it make more sense to view this as another indicator of youth?

Pluto is a delightfully bizarre world. It will take years for us to unpack the implications of what New Horizons has found.

But it’s already clear that Pluto is “baffling” to those scientists who expected it to conform to their long-age viewpoint, while being wonderfully consistent with the Creationary viewpoint instead.

Denying Science to Affirm Billions of Years

Again and again as we’ve explored the Solar System, we’ve discovered things that don’t match secular expectations.

Io wasn’t supposed to be so volcanically active. Enceladus wasn’t supposed to have a huge geyser coming out of it. Triton wasn’t supposed to have a massive volcano belching out material into space. Quaoar wasn’t supposed to have crystalline water ice on its surface. The list goes on and on.

These discoveries make these objects appear quite young.

Now we can add Pluto and Charon to the list. Again, we see objects that don’t match the predictions that were based on billions of years.

But secular scientists are unwilling to give up their billions-of-years outlook. So they have had to find other explanations for these discoveries.

Previously, discoveries like these were explained away by invoking tidal heating. (This is the only reasonable source of energy that could last for billions of years.)

So, the textbooks will tell you that tidal energy is powering Io’s volcanoes, Enceladus’ geysers, and so on.

But there’s a problem here. In most of these situations, tidal effects could only provide 1–10 percent of the required energy.

Therefore, this explanation fails.

Nevertheless, it’s still the explanation being offered in the textbooks and so on. Why? Because there aren’t any better alternatives, if you deny the possibility that these objects are actually young.

Pluto and Charon have made this situation a lot more interesting. This time, tidal energy can’t be invoked to explain away the youthful appearance of these objects.

As Alan Stern, the lead researcher of New Horizons, has said, “One thing that we can say for sure is tidal energy isn’t at work here. Pluto and Charon are in tidal equilibrium.”

So what’s the answer? Will secular scientists finally start questioning their assumptions about billions of years?

Here’s Alan Stern again:

“We now have an isolated small planet that’s showing activity after 4.5 billion years… I think it’s going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board.”

And as planetary scientist Amy Barr has commented:

“Every time we have looked at a body that has experienced tidal heating, such as Io, Europa, Enceladus, we find that the body has been more active, or is putting out 10 to 100 times the amount of heat predicted by models.

“Enceladus taught us that our models of tidal heating for icy bodies were not right, and I think the Pluto/Charon system could be telling us something similar.”

Notice what’s going on here. Instead of questioning their belief in billions of years, secular scientists are questioning their models of how planetary heating works.

Notice also that those models are based on well-understood physics.

So, instead of questioning the billions of years, secular scientists are questioning their understanding of physics instead.

I think that’s quite revealing.



  1. Other objects that were formerly called planets include some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and a number of asteroids.
  2. It will take almost a year and a half for the spacecraft to send all the data back via the Deep Space Network system. Fun website to visit: at http://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html, you can click on each antenna to see the spacecraft that the antenna is currently communicating with.
  3. In the creation/evolution controversy, creationists often point out the fatal flaws in evolutionary theory, and how frequently new discoveries are made that contradict evolutionist expectations.

In response, evolutionists claim that creationists don’t understand how science works. Secular scientists talk about the joy of being surprised by new discoveries, because it reveals to us that we don’t know everything about nature, and that there’s still more for us to discover.

Creationists agree that discovery is a joy (because it reveals to us more of the glory of our Creator). But evolutionists are completely missing the point here: whether or not new discoveries are received joyfully, is completely irrelevant.

What’s relevant is that again and again, secular (i.e., non-Creationary) predictions are falsified by new discoveries. Pluto is just the latest example of this.