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Pluto younger than expected



Pluto, in true color

The New Horizons spacecraft sent back the first of many photographs it took as it flew through the Pluto-Charon system. (See this article by Amanda Barnett at CNN.) These photographs present yet another problem for uniformitarian astronomers. Pluto and Charon both have surface features (or in one case the lack of surface features) that suggest youth, not great age, for these bodies. Conventional astronomers will no doubt insist on considering Pluto and Charon about 4.56 billion years ancient. If so, they must explain mountains with sharp features, and (on Charon) relatively few impact craters.

In contrast, creation scientists need consider Pluto and Charon only seven thousand years old – or even younger: 5300 years old, give or take a hundred. Walter T. Brown, of the Center for Scientific Creation, guesses the Biblical or Global Flood took place that many years ago. These new photographs should vindicate his Hydroplate Theory further.

Pluto and its young mountains

NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory both keep their own Web sites to keep the public up-to-date on the New Horizons mission. Today (15 July 2015) the JHUAPL released this article about the latest photographs from Pluto.

Any scientist worth his degree, relishes data that challenge long-standing theories, up to a point. New Horizons might have reached the point at which the investigators do not welcome that challenge. Among the first images the probe sent back after flying through the system is a relatively low-resolution image of a region near the apex of the now-famous “heart shape” on Pluto. (New Horizons will send back another, high-resolution image months later.) The photograph shows tall mountains on Pluto, rising as high as 3500 meters (11,000 feet) above mean ground level. These peaks stand out in sharp relief and do not show 4.56 billion years of erosion. The science team guesses these mountains must have formed 100 million years ago. Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) now says Pluto has “one of the youngest surfaces we’ve seen in the solar system.”

John Spencer, Jeff Moore’s deputy, said, “This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds.” He has a problem. Pluto has no larger body to cause tidal heating or other tidal stress. So when he speaks of “rethinking…geological activity,” he means: he and his colleagues cannot explain this.

Young primary, young moon

Charon, the large moon, offers another problem. It has too few impact craters. A new photograph does show a 1,000-kilometer stretch of cliffs and chasms, and a 4- to 6-mile-deep canyon near Charon’s north pole. One of two things happened. Either few if any meteoroids bombarded Charon, or after they did, Charon suffered tremendous “moonquakes” that erased the craters.

New Horizons also has the best photograph yet of Hydra, outermost moon of Pluto. As one might expect, Hydra does not have the classic ball shape of a larger object. The potato-shaped moon measures about 43 by 33 kilometers. Thus far, New Horizons has little color information. Observers believe a layer of water ice covers Hydra.

Pluto and its frozen atmosphere

Much of the atmosphere Pluto once had, has frozen. The spectrophotometer reveals abundant methane ice. But that ice lies more abundantly in some parts of Pluto than on others. What could have frozen that methane in place so quickly that it did not distribute itself evenly over the surface?

False-color composite images of Pluto and Charon put the problem in sharper perspective. The surface of Pluto does not have a uniform coating. This goes beyond the light-colored heart shape. In fact Pluto and Charon both have many different coatings on different parts of their surfaces.

Scientists have known about the pink-brown color of Pluto for decades. Classically they attribute this color to a new class of substance called a tholin, from an ancient Greek word describing a mud or sepia-ink color. Carl Sagan and Bishun Khare invented the concept after some creative reverse-engineering. They synthesized these substances by bombarding an atmosphere of methane, nitrogen and ammonia with ultraviolet light. (Stanley Miller and Harold Urey got amino acids by similarly postulating a “primitive atmosphere.”)

No doubt, the New Horizons teams will say a great deal more about tholins than most people know about today. But: will they describe exactly how much ultraviolet light must fall on such an atmosphere to produce tholins? Or whether the components of an atmosphere that can make tholins exists or existed? (That assumes they can even show they’re looking at complex organic molecules, and not at simple iron rust!) Maybe they can explain Pluto’s color that way. But how about Charon, which has no atmosphere that any astronomer has ever before detected?

Of course, astronomers today say not a word about another problem for uniformitarian theories. Charon has young, crystalline ice on it. No one supposes that ice formed 4.56 billion years ago. If it had, today the ice would turn amorphous. No one wants to admit the problem. But this ice gives further evidence for a young Charon, and a young Pluto.

In sum

New Horizons gives even further evidence to regard Pluto and its wide-binary companion as young, not old. According to the Hydroplate Theory, both bodies are younger even than earth. That explains young mountains, a young (crater-free) ground for the largest moon of Pluto, young crystalline water ice, and other ices that have not had time to distribute themselves evenly.

Update (18 June 2015)

Walter T. Brown took note of the icy mountains of Pluto, and the relative lack of impact craters on Pluto and especially on Charon. He lists these on this page of his on-line book, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood. He believes the icy mountains formed from cryovolcanism, with multiple impacts as the trigger.

Because Pluto is the largest known TNO, it probably received more heat-producing impacts than all other TNOs as it grew from its swarm stage following the flood. All that heat would have melted some of Pluto’s internal ice causing delayed eruptions of slushy geysers on Pluto’s surface. Eruptions here on Earth produce volcanic cones and ash. On Pluto they produced icy mountains and snow storms that buried many craters.

These snow storms did not bury all the craters on Pluto. They left some prominent craters for New Horizons to see and photograph. But those mountains rise to an altitude more than three-tenths of one percent of the radius of Pluto. A mountain on Earth rising to a proportional altitude, would rise about twelve miles high – more than twice as high as Mount Everest.

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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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The Plutonian mountains are 3500 meters high, not 3500 feet.

Wait a minute, though. The reason that the ‘conventional’ scientists give for Pluto having a young surface is that it lacks impact craters – combined with the belief that crater accumulation takes place over long time scales and that the rate of cratering was higher in the distant past. Thus a crater free surface could not have been around for billions of years – either because the underlying body is not that old or because the surface has been reworked more recently. On Earth, the reworking is due to tectonics and weathering.

But these arguments don’t apply in your Flood model, where Pluto and Charon condensed from clouds of Flood debris within the last five thousand years. That process would have produced quite a few craters as the bodies accreted.

For example, you propose that the mascons and impact features on the Moon were the result of Flood debris falling to the Moon’s surface during and shortly after the Flood. The Moon in this model is young (~7000 years old), and the many craters are from very recent bombardment (~5300 years ago). So the craters on the Moon in your model are portrayed as evidence of _recent_ disruption of the surface.

But if Pluto and Charon formed from coalescing swarms of Flood debris in the very recent past, they should also show the same sort of cratering as Earth’s Moon. The accretion process should have produced a huge number of craters. How did Pluto accrete from scattered debris in the last 5000 years without being cratered? Or, if it was warm enough in the last 5000 years to level out the craters, where did the heat go? Do the temperatures of Pluto and Charon fit any kind of cooling curve for their having accreted 5000 years ago?

Charon: tholin formation has been demonstrated in gas mixtures, but also in the solid phase on ices, which Charon has. The ice compositions of Pluto and Charon are different, and so is the amount of reddening of both bodies.


Conventional scientists say the moon’s surface (the topography anyway) is old because it has accumulated many craters over a long period of time.

You/Dr. Brown say the moon’s surface is young because it accumulated many craters over a short period of time, a short while ago, during/shortly after the Flood.

Conventional scientists say the surface topography of Pluto is young because it has not accumulated many craters. That could be because Pluto formed from a ‘recent’ collision (on the order of tens of millions of years ago), or because the surface is reworked by seasonal weather changes, or because the sublimation of hundreds or thousands of meters of ice over long periods erases surface features, or (new theories being worked out based on New Horizons data).

You say the surface of Pluto is new because… why? That same lack of craters? But in your model Pluto formed quite recently from the collapse of a cloud of Flood debris, an accretion process that would generate cratering in the same way that impacts of Flood debris cratered the Moon. If Pluto collapsed from a debris cloud less than ten thousand years ago, then where are its craters? This is not bombardment from unrelated rocks; this is from the collapse of the proto-Pluto cloud itself. Whether that collapse happened in the inner system or out past Neptune, it’s still a bunch of stuff falling onto the surface of proto-Pluto until all the stuff is used up. It should be paved with craters.

I’m aware of how massive Pluto and Charon are. How much thrust do you propose they received from the Sun while they were in the inner Solar System? How big were the ‘swarms’ that held themselves together and went on to collapse into Charon and Pluto? Why would the solar wind not just blow a gas cloud away like a comet’s tail?

Cosmic rays are high-energy particles that can be divided into those that come from extra-solar-system sources (supernovas, radio galaxies, probably other sources) and those the originate in the solar system as ‘solar energetic particles’. But perhaps you were referring to the Lyman-alpha UV that I mentioned, which is just UV light of a particular wavelength related to neutral hydrogen electron orbital energy levels. There is a cosmic background of Lyman-alpha radiation, coming from distant sources, and New Horizons has measured its directional brighness while en route to Pluto.

Matt Clark

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You got a chuckle out of me with your argumentum ab auctoritate comment. Good one!

Has Dr. Brown – or should I not bother with the honorific, since is apparently immaterial? Has Wally provided you with any positive evidence for his claims that the red color of Pluto is rust or that Pluto was boosted into its current orbit by a gravity assist from a gas giant? Other than the fact that he speaks to you from a position of authority, and you believe in that authority?

Does he show you what the IR or UV absorption spectrum of rust particles of some given size is, and show how that spectrum matches that of light reflected from the surface of Pluto? Or does he just say that it must be so?

Does he demonstrate through orbital dynamics how a gravity assist maneuver can put an object into an orbit with a perihelion far beyond that of the boosting body? Or does he just say that it must be so?

Has he explained where Pluto’s craters are, if it formed by accretion from a swarm of debris less than 5000 years ago, when the Moon is covered with craters caused by collision with debris from the same event? Or does he just say that it must be so?

As for extrasolar radiation – what’s your objection? Do you deny that two photons of the same frequency carry the same amount of energy, no matter their source? Do you argue that cosmic rays are less energetic away from the Sun?


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