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Pluto: accidental creation



Pluto, in true color

In about two and one-half days (14 July 2015, 11:50 UTC), a ship named New Horizons will pass close to the dwarf planet Pluto. It has approached Pluto for six months, after a voyage of nine and a half years. And already it has found, or confirmed, evidence of the true nature, and origin, of Pluto. We must regard Pluto as a recent creation. And an accidental one. A product of the most violent event the earth has ever known, the one event worthy of the name cataclysm.

Findings about Pluto

New Horizons takes off for Pluto

New Horizons launches atop an Atlas V rocket, 19 January 2006. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

New Horizons launched on 19 January 2006. The piano-sized spacecraft flew by Jupiter on 28 February 2007 to get a gravity boost. That boost set it on an almost radial transit toward Pluto. It cannot orbit Pluto or land on it. But it will follow a course similar to the one Pluto first followed, about five thousand years ago. (More on that below.)

As New Horizons flew toward Pluto, its controllers used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for any object that might drift into its way. They had to. Pluto flies about four and a half light-hours away from earth. No ship flying to intercept it can possibly take orders in real time. So the controllers had to preload all the orders for New Horizons to follow. And make sure New Horizons steers clear of any stray obstacles.

So the controllers searched for any moons of Pluto other than the three they already knew about. In 2011 and 2012 they found two: Styx (for the black river of the underworld, an oath sworn on which would bind even the gods) and Kerberos (for the three-headed pet wolf of the god Pluto). New Horizons has since taken relative close-ups of both objects.

This might not seem relevant. But this finding alone bears directly on the origin of Pluto. This and several other findings defy conventional explanation:

  • Why should Pluto have moons? Humans by now have found five. The New Horizons team expects to find many more.
  • Why should the orbits of those moons be almost circular? What could have braked those moons, especially the smaller ones (Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra), into those orbits?
  • Why should Pluto and Charon, its largest moon, form a wide binary? The barycenter of the Plutonian system lies above the surface of Pluto. Charon has a mass slightly more than a seventh of the mass of Pluto. But NASA readily acknowledges that the two bodies have more differences than features in common. How, then, could Pluto have captured Charon and brought it into an almost circular orbit?
  • Where did Pluto get its rust color? That’s right: rust. Astronomers have known for decades: the surface of Pluto has the color of iron rust. Iron rust needs surface iron and an oxygen-rich atmosphere. How did Pluto get either one? Especially the oxygen? (Charon does not share the rust color of Pluto.)

Conventional theories

Conventional planetary science cannot answer any of these questions. For instance: conventional theory holds that a giant impactor struck Pluto and ejected Charon from it. If so, why should Pluto have a rust color and Charon not have one? And why didn’t Charon fly off as an independent trans-Neptunian object in its own right? How, for that matter, could any two trans-Neptunian objects form a wide binary? For Pluto and Charon do not form the only wide binary beyond the orbit of Neptune. (For that matter, many more TNO’s than only Pluto have a rust color.)

The Hydroplate Theory

Walter T. Brown, of the Center for Scientific Creation, can explain where Pluto came from, and how it found its way beyond Neptune. Fifty-three hundred years ago (give or take a hundred), a subcrustal ocean on earth broke containment and created a hypersonic jet flying straight up. Perhaps four percent of the earth’s mass escaped into space by this jet. So this event did more than flood over all the land areas of the earth and kill every human, land animal, and bird (except for a family of eight that built an incredible wooden life-ship and took specimens of every taxonomic family of land animal and bird). It also seeded the solar system with the materials for the Mavericks of the Solar System. This class of objects includes meteoroids, comets, asteroids – and trans-Neptunian objects. Pluto belongs to the TNO class, as one of its largest members.

All TNO’s, like all asteroids, formed from swarms of escaped matter from earth. Pluto had two components that would give it its rust color: iron in rocks, and oxygen from water vapor. The sun, shining on the object that would become Pluto, dissociated the water vapor into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen combined with the iron. This formed the rust. The rust gives Pluto its color. That could happen in the inner solar system but never in the outer.

Another thing that could form only in the inner solar system: crystalline ice. Astronomers at Arizona State University knew this on 17 July 2007. Says Walt Brown: only amorphous ice could form beyond Neptune. Never crystalline.

An object can only form from a swarm of dust and rock traveling together. Pluto and Charon formed near enough to one another to form a wide binary. Yet they formed from different swarms, of different compositions. Pluto got iron; Charon did not. So one can confidently predict: if anyone ever does plan a sample-analysis mission to the Pluto-Charon system, they will find Pluto richer in iron ore than Charon – if Charon has any iron ore at all.

The other moons in the Pluto-Charon system (however many New Horizons will find) formed from rocks that did not fall into either body, but were part of the two swarms.

The two largest objects, once formed, gathered some of the surrounding gases to form atmospheres. Those atmospheres exerted more pressure on their “daylight” sides than on their night sides. (In addition, the solar wind pushed against both objects, as conventional wind pushes against a sail.) Thus they gained enough momentum for a transit toward a gas giant, probably Jupiter. There they got the gravity boost that sent them to the orbit where Clyde W. Tombaugh found Pluto in 1930. Most of the TNO’s must have gained similar gravity boosts. The reason: they all have arguments of perihelion that cluster around two values 180 degrees apart. (If those objects were millions of years old, their arguments of perihelion would have a completely random distribution by now.)

The remaining objects braked in the high-gas-density environment of the inner solar system after the Flood. This braking gave them their near-circular orbits.

Pluto and Charon present a special case. Each object fell into tidal lock against the other. (The sidereal day of Pluto last exactly the same amount of time as the sidereal month of Charon.) In coming to tidal lock, they transferred their individual angular momentum (as rotating objects) to the binary system they now formed (as mutually orbiting objects). This not only set the distance they keep between them but also made their orbit a perfect circle (eccentricity: zero).

In sum

Pluto, unlike the other planets in the solar system, formed by accident. It did not form from any giant impactor. (Nor did any such object strike Pluto.) Instead, Pluto came from some of the stuff of earth.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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Just so we’re clear: you are claiming that the reddish color of Pluto comes from surface deposits of iron oxide, similar to the surface of Mars? Not, as mainstream scientists believe, from the formation of reddish _tholins_ from the interaction of solar UV, cosmic rays, and local nitrogen, methane, and ammonia?

I guess we’ll see from the New Horizons data, right? Let’s lock this prediction down as quickly as we can: Charon relatively iron-poor surface, Pluto relatively iron-rich surface with iron oxide. Correct?


By “facts we know” you are referring to what? Spectroscopic data, or something else?
I’m curious what evidence you believe exists for the presence of iron oxide pigments on Pluto other than ‘it looks reddish to the eye’.

Should the New Horizons evidence suggest that the color is not due to iron oxide, what implications if any will this have on Dr. Brown’s theory of Pluto formation?


Well, the ‘conventional scientists’ have been doing spectrographic analysis on the Pluto/Charon system since 1976, when methane was first detected there by spectroscopy. As you no doubt know, there has been quite a bit of work done on that topic over the last ~forty years, including the identification of methane ice, methane dissolved in solid N2, carbon monoxide, ethane, water ice, and (for Charon) ammonia hydrate. This included both ground- and space-based spectroscopy, which guided the design of the UV and IR spectrometers that are present on New Horizons and which will improve the spatial resolution of the spectrographic measurements compared to Earth-based measurements.

In addition, analysis of outer solar system bodies like Titan and Triton (including putting the lander _Huygens_ down on red, non-rusty, full-of-tholins Titan) provided evidence of tholin formation in both locations. Tholin compounds have been synthesized on Earth from mixtures of N2 and CH4 similar to those believed to exist on Pluto/Titan/Triton, and their absorption spectra determined. Comparison of Pluto’s absorption spectrum with that of a mixture of methane, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, Titan and Triton tholins, etc., show a good match. Furthermore, the energy required for local tholin synthesis has also been modeled and found to be achievable by cosmic ray bombardment of the Plutonian atmosphere, as well as by solar UV irradiation _and the cosmic background of Lyman-alpha glow coming in from all directions, already confirmed by LEISA on board New Horizons_ . So your veiled inverse square law reference has already been addressed. I won’t bother you with the citations; it shouldn’t be any harder for you to find them than it was for me.

So I’m not sure what you mean by ‘hard evidence’. Maybe you would not be satisfied with anything less than a sample return mission, which will never happen. I would argue, though, that the ‘conventional scientists’ have quite a lot more support for their position than you do for yours. So I’ll repeat my earlier question: to balance against their evidence, what evidence do you have that leads you to believe that the red color of Pluto is caused by rust instead of complex nitro-organic compounds? Does replacement of tholins with rust give a better fit to the known absorption spectrum of Pluto? Does something about the Plutonian atmosphere suggest a high oxygen content?

My suspicion is that “because it looks rusty red” is the only basis for your claim – or, rather, Dr. Brown’s claim.

Come to think it, we’ve heard Dr. Brown’s claim that Pluto and the other TNOs spiraled out of the inner solar system until they were slingshotted out beyond Neptune by interaction with the gas giants. But we haven’t heard how their orbits got altered further such that their perihelia are out past Neptune too (we can address Pluto’s Neptune-crossing orbit later). What kind of slingshot around, say, Jupiter puts you into an elliptical orbit always outside of Pluto? I can see a hyperbolic or parabolic escape from the Solar System, but anything short of that should have you coming back at least as close to the Sun as Jupiter.


OK, so the conventional scientists have “an assumption.” Not sure what you mean by that, exactly – an assumption that electromagnetic radiation interacts with matter in the same way at Pluto as it does at Titan/Triton/Earth? That seems like a safe bet. An assumption that rust and nitro-organic compounds on Pluto would have different absorption spectra? That seems pretty safe too, since they do here on Earth. Are you arguing that spectroscopy can’t be used to detect chemical compounds at a distance? That’s a tough sell, especially since you seem to accept the use of spectroscopy to identify water in all sorts of spots in the Solar System that probes have never sampled directly, like Mercury and the Jovian and Saturnian satellites.

You still haven’t said what your evidence is for your theory, by the way, to counter the spectroscopic evidence already gathered over the last thirty-odd years. But you knew that.

As for the orbits of the TNOs – the aphelions are not the impressive thing. A gravity-assist boost past Jupiter can indeed fling things out to impressive distances; even on escape trajectories from the Solar System, like a Voyager or a New Horizons The thing that is difficult to explain based on your theory is why the TNOs (which supposedly were boosted out from the vicinity of Jupiter on closed orbits) do not then always swing back to the vicinity of Jupiter’s orbit.

Jupiter applies an impulse to proto-Eris while proto-Eris is slowly spiralling out under a kind of cometary thrust: fine. Proto-Eris goes screaming off into the far night along a new orbit that reaches aphelion out at nearly 100 AU. But Eris has a perihelion of about 38 AU, not the ~5.2 AU of Jupiter’s orbit. How does Eris’ orbit change from crossing Jupiter’s orbit to never coming closer than Neptune’s?

I mean orbitally-mechanically, how is it done? You can’t launch an inert rock outward from Jupiter’s orbit without having it either leave the solar system or eventually return to its launch point, which is on Jupiter’s orbit. How are you getting Sedna and Eris and 2014VP113 to park themselves in such high-perihelion orbits? It’s like you jumping in the air and then only falling half way back down to the ground; it’s not how orbits work. So what’s your (Dr. Brown’s) mechanism?


Uh huh. No positive evidence for your position, then.

Sagan et al. are as good a place as any to start, but are hardly the last word on the subject – they published back in 1979, and things have progressed a bit since then. You could try Science v316 #5826 pp 870-875 for some more recent stuff. Your personal antipathy toward Dr. Sagan is clear, but ad hominem is not the right approach to demonstrating that his ideas are wrong. A UV photon at Pluto has the same energy as a UV photon at Earth, of course – there are just fewer of them hitting Pluto. And Lyman-alpha shines from everywhere.

As for no mission returning anything other than hints of sepia inks – probably no mission that you are aware of, yes. There have, however, been quite a few missions of which you are apparently not aware, including the in-situ mass spectrometry of the _Huygens_ probe at Titan, multiple Cassini ion mass spectrometry measurements, spectroscopic analysis of multiple outer solar system bodies by multiple space- and ground-based instruments, etc. There is no reason that you would have known about any of them, since it’s hardly your area of interest. I myself am woefully ignorant of developments in Christian eschatology over the last forty years, but I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that there haven’t been any.

As for anybody looking for the absorption spectra of iron oxide, I rather assumed that you had done it, since you were the one making the positive claim. No? Has anyone looked for the absorption spectrum of beta-carotene, or cochineal, or madder lake?

As for Jupiter acting over and over to fling something out until it stays good and flung, I’m sorry but that’s just not the way that orbits work, on multiple levels. One, because the periods of the orbits of the two bodies will differ such that they won’t tend to line up like that over and over. Two, because _even if they did_, the impulse would come at a point on the TNO’s orbit where it crossed the orbit of Jupiter, and it would still have to return to that same point unless it was entirely tossed out of the Solar System. If a closed orbit passes through a given point, even if the orbit is ‘starting fresh’ from that point (like at the end of a gravitational assist or a rocket burn), the body on that orbit has to return to pass that same point repeatedly. The path is fixed by the laws of gravity. You’re talking about something as impossible as tossing a rock on the Moon and having it travel along a logarithmic spiral instead of along a parabolic path. If you want TNOs to zip past Jupiter and then stay way the heck out there, never coming back, you need something out there to give them a second boost to do it.

As to the formation of Pluto and Charon – I’m happy with the prevailing large impact hypothesis, but I’m not terribly bothered by the fact that historical events that depend on contingency may never be able to be fully explained, and I’d be willing to throw my support behind a different theory should new data arise. I do like to see the theories supported by some legitimate math, though. Just to show that the authors put in the effort, you know?


Can we expect Dr. Brown to present this research at an upcoming scientific meeting? The AAS Division of Planetary Science meeting is in November in Baltimore, and the AGU Fall Meeting is in December in San Francisco. Both will feature numerous sessions on the Pluto-Charon system. Even if he chooses not to present, I’d encourage him to attend to discuss the state of the Pluto observations with members of the New Horizons team.


Only a very small fraction (maybe .1%) of talks at scientific meetings are invited – the overwhelming majority are submitted (the abstract due dates for both DPS and AGU are in August). There is no harm in submitting an abstract other than fear of rejection…which, honestly, is unlikely, as over 25,000 geoscientists at present research at AGU and there is still more room for expansion.

In any case, I’d still suggest that Dr. Brown attend even if he chooses not to present. Scientific venues are great venues for everyone to learn from each other.


While the amount of solar UV falls off with distance, the amount of Lyman-alpha cosmic background UV and cosmic rays remain constant. The Lyman-alpha background at Pluto is 40% as strong as the solar UV, so the energy input to start tholin formation tapers off to a plateau as you get farther from the Sun, but doesn’t go to zero.

I’ll reiterate that the Huygens probe has already performed pyrolysis and gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy on Titan’s atmospheric aerosols. That’s a sample analysis mission. Cassini also has a mass spectrometer and has made ~100 passes through the upper reaches of Titan’s atmosphere in addition to its spectroscopic analysis.

It seems odd to compare tholins with phlogiston when tholins can be synthesized in a lab under various conditions, studied on Earth, and the results compared to sample analysis and spectroscopy done both remotely from Earth and locally in the outer solar system. Try ‘Titan Tholins: Simulating Titan Organic Chemistry in the Cassini-Huygens Era’ in Chemical Reviews 2012 112(3) pp118-1909 for an extensive discussion of the synthesis issue. This is not an invisible pink unicorn in the garage.

James B

Great idea for Dr Walt Brown to present at the AAS or AGU meetings. He needs to make those scientists aware of his discoveries that can explain so much about the solar system. Go for it!


Tholin-forming reactions have been demonstrated in both gas and solid phase, so even airless bodies with the proper surface chemicals will redden over time. Charon’s ices are compositionally different than Pluto’s, so the degree of reddening isn’t identical. Also, Pluto sheds atmospheric gas which can be picked up by Charon; deposition of Pluto-sourced volatiles on Charon may be responsible for Charon’s dark polar cap. Or not; it awaits further analysis of the NH data and physical modeling to see if this is the case.


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