On Thursday, New Horizons mission scientists published five separate studies on Pluto’s geology, atmosphere, and moon system in the journal Science. Surprisingly, the papers revealed that the icy dwarf planet is surprisingly more diverse than scientists had expected.
The latest studies were based on fresh data collected by NASA’s New Horizons probe during its history flyby of the tiny planet on July 14, 2015. It is the first time scientists have managed to closely analyze the new data, and provide the public with a more accurate depiction of the former ninth planet from the sun.
Shortly after the flyby, the mission team could only release info on the most striking features like the ‘heart’ of Pluto, a region called the Tombaugh Regio, and its different types of snow made of frozen carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrogen.
But after eight months, researchers learned that Pluto is not the dull planet they initially suspected after looking at the low-resolution imagery provided by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble’s images couldn’t render the geological diversity of the dwarf planet due to the long distance from the sun, which makes the space rock so dimly lit. Plus, since the dwarf planet is three times tinier than the moon, scientists had expected Pluto to be a “boring cratered ball,” as researcher William M. Grundy at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona put it.
Other researchers had imagined that Pluto might be geologically similar to Triton, one of Neptune’s many moons. But both groups were wrong. Instead, NASA’s probe captured a variety of landscapes, outcrops, and features.
“The big surprise is that Pluto turned out so surprising,”
noted NASA’s Jeffrey M. Moor, head of the New Horizons’ imaging team at Ames Research Center in California.
According to one of the research papers, the planet is dotted with ice volcanoes spewing liquid nitrogen. Plus, scientists have found a strange mountain they called Wright Mons with a hole on its top. Planetary scientists said that they had never seen anything like it in the entire solar system.
The recently published studies also described Pluto’s gigantic moon Charon. As expected, Charon does not have various types of ices on its surface like Pluto does. Its crust is mainly covered in water ice. Scientists explained that this is because the alien moon has a weaker gravity which doesn’t allow it to host carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrogen.
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