DEC 26, 2021 8:00 AM PST

Pluto's landscape formation mysteries revealed

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made a historic fly-by of the dwarf-planet Pluto on July 14, 2015, but even after six and a half years scientists are still combing over data and further unraveling mysteries about this distant and icy world. This fly-by is the only fly-by, to date, of this very intriguing world whose physical appearance and composition has been shrouded in mystery ever since it was first discovered in 1930.

A recent study published in Nature showed that Pluto is still very much geologically active despite its immense distance from our Sun, approximately 3.67 billion miles away. This distance matters since geologic processes on atmospheric-bearing rocky worlds such as Venus, Earth, and Mars are often driven by incoming solar radiation. Discovering that Pluto is geologically active is truly extraordinary considering it only receives 1/1600 as much sunlight as the Earth. The region of study on Pluto is one of the planet’s largest craters, Sputnik Planitia, which contains a bright plain slightly larger than France and is filled with nitrogen ice.

“When the space probe New Horizon performed the only, to date, fly-by of Pluto in 2015, the collected data was enough to drastically change our understanding of this remote world.” said Dr. Adrien Morison, lead author of the study and Research Fellow with the University of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department.

The numerical simulations conducted in this study showed that cooling from sublimation (any substance, in this case ice, going straight from a solid to a gas without becoming a liquid) is able to power convection (planetary cooling), and is consistent with data coming from New Horizons. Due to this geologic activity occurring so far from the Sun, such mechanisms could also occur on other distant rocky worlds such as Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, and even some Kuiper Belt objects, such as Makemake and Eris, the latter two of which are farther out than Pluto, approximately 4.3 billion and 6.3 billion miles from the Sun, respectively.

Despite this incredible study, Dr. Morison stated that there are still questions behind just how these processes occur.

Sources: Nature, John D. Cook

 

About the Author
  • Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”. Favorite planet: MARS!
You May Also Like
JUN 22, 2021
Space & Astronomy
An Unusual Galaxy Without Dark Matter
JUN 22, 2021
An Unusual Galaxy Without Dark Matter
Even though we still cannot detect dark matter, many researchers are confident that exists. It seems to act as a kind of ...
JUL 03, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Astronauts Perform CRISPR Gene Editing in Space
JUL 03, 2021
Astronauts Perform CRISPR Gene Editing in Space
NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have developed and successfully carried out a CRISPR-Cas9 p ...
AUG 06, 2021
Space & Astronomy
New Details About the Far Side of the Moon are Revealed
AUG 06, 2021
New Details About the Far Side of the Moon are Revealed
It takes 27,322 days for it to orbit Earth and 27 days for the Moon to rotate once on its axis. We can't detect that mot ...
SEP 14, 2021
Space & Astronomy
NASA is Planning to Shoot a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
SEP 14, 2021
NASA is Planning to Shoot a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
NASA can detect asteroids, so there's been plenty of speculation about what might happen if we discover an asteroid ...
DEC 08, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
New Study Finds Evidence of Brief Presence of Water on Mars
DEC 08, 2021
New Study Finds Evidence of Brief Presence of Water on Mars
Up north on Mars’s surface lies a region called Arabia Terra, an area with many craters and heavy erosion approxim ...
JAN 03, 2022
Space & Astronomy
"Where is everybody?"
JAN 03, 2022
"Where is everybody?"
Are we alone in the Universe? If not, why haven't we heard from anyone? If we are alone, then are we the first, or even ...
Loading Comments...