X Marks The Spot Of Curious Activity On Pluto

Posted: Jan 9 2016, 9:27pm CST | by , in Latest Science News


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X Marks the Spot on Pluto's Icy Plains
Transmitted to Earth on Dec. 24, 2015, this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) extends New Horizons’ highest-resolution swath of Pluto to the center of Sputnik Planum, the informally named plain that forms the left side of Pluto’s “heart.” Mission scientists believe the pattern of the cells stems from the slow thermal convection of the nitrogen-dominated ices. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
  • X Marks the Spot of Curious Activity on Pluto’s Icy Plains

A pic of an X spot on Pluto’s surface taken by the NASA spacecraft is marked by spontaneous activity.

The latest picture of an X spot on the surface of Pluto shows certain activity going on. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took the photograph. The image reached the earth on December 24th.

The X spot is a part of the icy part of Pluto that lies towards the left and forms its heartland. The region is called Sputnik Planum and it is at a lower plain than the surrounding highlands. However, it is not completely flat either. The surface features consist of polygons or cells.

When seen closeup, these compartments have raised middle areas and their margins have ridges. The elevation scale is a hundred yards. Scientists believe that the shape of the cells comes from convection currents beneath the nitrogen heavy icy surface features.

The place contains reservoirs that lie deep beneath the crust. Pluto’s minimal heat reserves come in handy here. The heat currents rise in the form of massive blobs which then cool down and sink back into the depths. The whole setup resembles a lava lamp. But ths lava lamp is more expansive than the Hudson Bay.

“This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp,” said William McKinnon, deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, from Washington University in St. Louis, “if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, the Hudson Bay.”

These large cushions of lava tend to merge over millions of years and the margins are left high and dry after long periods of time. The X spot too may be one of these margins that had been abandoned. It shows activity and is an interesting feature of Pluto.

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