In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft discovered a strange formation on the surface of Pluto. The heart-shaped designed has baffled the scientists ever since. However, after closely analyzing the formation, the scientists now take interest in a specific area.
Scientists believe that the Sputnik Planitia could be, in fact, an ocean. However, the main component is ice. Three different types of ice, to be more specific: carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and methane.
Initial Theories vs New Findings
Originally, scientists believed that the Sputnik Planitia is a basin which formed after an asteroid crashed into the planet’s surface. However, a more recent study suggests that the formation may have its origins in the early history of Pluto. Nevertheless, all scientists at NASA agree that the basin contains ice.
Douglas Hamilton is the lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Maryland. According to him, the ice sheet formed early, when Pluto was spinning fast. It wasn’t until later on that the Sputnik Planitia also began to form as a result of evolutionary processes. So, professor Hamilton’s new theory debunks previous studies in the matter. Those relied on the fact that the heart formation was a direct consequence of an outside asteroid impact.
Furthermore, professor Hamilton’s study suggests that the ice formation within the Sputnik Planitia could have also affected the planet’s tilt.
New Study’s Highlights
According to professor Hamilton, the Sputnik Planitia could also harbor an underground ocean of ammonia. Furthermore, he believes that Pluto has experienced a period of global expansion in the past. The team of researchers was able to come up with this theory by analyzing Pluto’s tectonic activity which suggests that the planet was actually expanding.
However, discovering a planetary ocean on Pluto is not equivalent of discovering a source of fresh liquid water, as most people would think. When researchers talk about planetary oceans, they refer to masses of liquid composed of anything but water. The list includes nitrogen, methane, or ammonia, in Pluto’s case.
Nevertheless, the team of researchers said that they needed to further investigate Pluto’s heart formation. As of now, the fact that Pluto is harboring a subsurface planetary ocean is nothing more but a speculation.
Moreover, multiple other similar studies have been submitted on December 1st, 2016 in the journal Nature along with professor Hamilton’s paper. However, professor Hamilton’s model caught the eye of the scientific society rather quickly. He also believes that what happened on Pluto is also visible on Earth. He says that much like on Pluto, the Greenland Ice Sheet applied immense pressure on the Earth’s crust. As a result, it created a basin. According to professor Hamilton and his team, the same phenomenon occurred on Pluto in the past. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that humans were able to observe the basin. In present, scientists focus on unveiling the mystery behind the formation of the Sputnik Planitia and the basin’s contents.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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