BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Pluto’s core looks like a lava lamp, according to scientists. Combining computer models, topographic data, and compositional data gathered by New Horizons spacecraft, researchers managed to take a good look at Pluto’s “heart”. The study was published later this week, June 2, in the journal Nature.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s team of scientists have determined the depth of Pluto’s icy surface. This surface is constantly renewed thanks to a process called convection. What it does is replace older cold surfaces with freshly new material.
This vast plain that is Pluto’s heart is known as Sputnik Planum. The study revealed that while Sputnik Planum is made out of methane and carbon monoxide, it’s also full of nitrogen ice. This causes a “vigorous geological activity”, according to the researchers. There’s no precise data on just how much nitrogen is flowing below the planet’s heart.
On Pluto, nitrogen is malleable, thus flowing viscously. As the frozen nitrogen starts to warm up, parts of it rise up to the planet’s surface. The result is that Pluto’s core looks like a lava lamp. Over time, these blobs cool down and sink to the bottom once more. This process leaves room for more bubbles to rise and take their place. Scientists say that these bubbles sometimes fuse together pre-sinking, which is why there is an even more complex line work observed on the planet.
The team described the cycle of renewal as being unique. They have not come across such process within the Solar System until now. As a result of the convection, Pluto’s icy heart renews it’s “bubbles” every 500,000 to 1 million years. This process also smooths out any crater on Pluto’s surface, suggesting why its heart is so pure.
Researchers at NASA excitingly call these findings among the most spectacular of the New Horizons spacecraft missions. Sputnik Planum is said to be one of the most groundbreaking discoveries in over 50 years of planetary exploration.
New Horizons is also set to take a close-up look at other ancient objects in the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft will study the disk-shaped region beyond Neptune’s orbit. It is said to contain asteroid, comets, and icy bodies. More exciting discoveries are on the way.
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikipedia