It may not be as interesting as crabs on Mars, but a relatively new NASA picture shows what some say is a snail-like being on Pluto. The image was captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it made a flyby of the planet back in July. Pictured in a somewhat barren landscape is a ‘snail,’ or better put, an object that looks like a snail. Some enthusiasts hope it is a glimpse of alien life, but the real answer is (probably) far more mundane.
The image was sent back by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imaging tool on December 24 as part of a batch of previously captured photos. Once published, Internet goers began pouring over the images and spotted one in particular featuring a dark ‘snail’ traveling down a trail of some sort on the icy surface.
The ‘snail’ is noticeably darker than the surface surrounding it, a part of the planet known as the Sputnik Planum. Researchers believe there’s internal heat in that region sufficient enough to make a block of ice — in this case, the ‘snail’ — float.
The snail is in fact a solid chunk of nitrogen that, due to thermal convection, rises up to the surface as it warms up, then sinks again after cooling once it reaches the surface. NASA’s New Horizons lead William McKinnon explained, “This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp.”