Recent images from NASA’s New Horizons mission show mountains that, according to New Horizons scientist John Spencer, “would stand up respectably against the Rocky Mountains.”

Pluto's Surface

Pluto’s Surface (NASA photo)

From CNN’s Amanda Barnett:

“The height of the mountains is important because it’s a clue that there may be water on Pluto. Scientists know that Pluto’s surface is covered with nitrogen ice, methane ice and carbon monoxide ice. But Spencer says, ‘You can’t make mountains out of that stuff. It’s too soft.’

That leaves H20—water ice like we have here on Earth.

‘The steep topography means that the bedrock that makes those mountains must be made of H2O—of water ice,’ said Stern [New Horizon’s principal investigator]. ‘We can be very sure that the water is there in great abundance.’

‘Who would have supposed that there were ice mountains?’ said Hal Weaver, another New Horizons project scientist.

‘It’s just blowing my mind,’ he said.”

One of my daily pleasures is transcribing entries from my great aunt Hattie’s diaries, which she kept from 1920 – 1957, so that relatives and anyone else interested in everyday history can read them. The project has become almost a form of meditation on history and progress, life and meaning. This year I am posting entries from the years 1925, 1935, 1945 and 1955. This is from Hattie’s diary from July 16, 1935:

“Mr. Chauncey, Billie and Neil came last eve and brought us Peas and Radish and men watched Moon Eclipse from 9:30 until toward 11 o’clock.”

Lunar Eclipse, July 16, 1935

Lunar Eclipse of July 16, 1935 (AP Wire photo)

Canadian author Albert R. Hassard wrote in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vol. 29, p. 321) that the July 16, 1935 full lunar eclipse was the “most interesting lunar eclipse it has been my privilege to observe.”

“The centre of the moon at totality had developed into a colour I have noted as ‘bloody red’, like the interior of a blood-red orange…. The moon had an ‘eerie’ appearance. One had to reflect for a moment or two to realize that the body out there was really our celestial sister, and not Mars, or some other strange object which had suddenly obtruded itself upon our view. The Milky Way was well defined, much clearer in fact than it oftentimes appears upon a clear and moonless night.

At the end of the total phase I cased observing. I was well repaid by what I had seen, and felt that such a spectacle as this might not again be seen by me in my lifetime.”

While Hassard observed the eclipse through a telescope, his description helps me to imagine the farmers and ranchers of rural South Dakota gathering on the wide open prairie, in essence a natural planetarium, to watch together a spectacle over 200,000 miles away. Just think of the wonder they would have upon seeing the images of the mountains of Pluto, which had been discovered only five years previously in 1930.

In our 21st century’s onslaught of headlines and information and clickbait, we are reminded to stop for a moment to indulge in the wonder of something truly awesome—inspiring awe and blowing our minds.

Lunar eclipse image: AP Wirephoto. [Photograph 2012.201.B0405.0011], Photograph, July 16, 1935; (http://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc427788/ : accessed July 15, 2015), Oklahoma Historical Society, The Gateway to Oklahoma History, http://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.