Something happens when we start making maps of hitherto unknown terrain. A sense of familiarity begins to settle in, a pre- and post-visit linearity, even when the landscape is billions of miles away. To put a name on a place and put that name on a map is a focusing that turns a bleary imagined place into a surface of mountains and valleys, a place that from now on will carry a human perspective. It can’t be undone; a kind of wave function has already collapsed.
And what place more remote than Pluto? At the dwarf planet’s Tenzing Montes, we find striking peaks, some of them running up to 6 kilometers in height, and all this on a world that, until 2015, we weren’t sure even had mountains. Certainly we weren’t expecting mountains this tall, or a terrain this rugged. Given how many years may pass before we have another chance to visit Pluto/Charon, these first official validated topographic maps of the dwarf planet and its moon, just released, will carry our science — and our imaginations — for a long time to come.