Pluto Is A Surreal World, Flyby Reveals

Posted: Oct 18 2015, 5:46am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 18 2015, 3:10pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Pluto Is a Surreal World, Flyby Reveals

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New Horizons team has released the details of diverse findings from the dwarf planet.

Three months after the historic July 14 flyby of Pluto, the New Horizons team has released the details of diverse and fascinating findings from the dwarf planet.

During its close approach to Pluto system at a distance of 13,691 km, New Horizon spacecraft found a wide variety of landforms, substantial variations in color and composition, water ice rich crust as well as multiple haze layers in Pluto’s atmosphere.

“We knew Pluto’s surface was heterogeneous based on ground-based data. However, I was astonished to see such spectacular surface color and geological diversity,” Silvia Protopapa, astronomer from University of Maryland and one of the authors of the study said.

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Charon, the largest moon of the dwarf planet is very large in comparison to its parent body. The sizes of the smallest of its five moons, Nix and Hydra were also measured during this closest ever approach to dwarf planet.

“The Pluto system surprised us in many ways, most notably teaching us that small planets can remain active billions of years after their formation,” said principal investigator and lead author Alan Stern. “We were also taught important lessons by the degree of geological complexity that both Pluto and its large moon Charon display.”

The high resolution image of Pluto shows puzzling patterns and pits. The dark red regions at Pluto’s equator contain very little volatile ice while the western section of the iconic heart, informally called Sputnik Planum, is found rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices and the blue are high latitude areas.

Pluto is not only diverse but a geologically active world as well and changes are still taking place on its surface. Pluto’s diverse geology and apparent activity also raises many questions about how it has remained active many billions of years after its formation.

Pluto’s still got an engine, and it’s still running.” Stern said.

Pluto was discovered in 1930 and was thought to be misfit in the solar system until the discovery of Kuiper-belt late in the century. Kuiper-belt is a torus shaped region in solar system, which contains many dwarf planets like Eris, Makemake and Haumea. It is a possibility that they can also have complex histories like Pluto.

The findings were published on October 16 issue of Science Mag.

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