Beacon Transcript – Two new studies which target Pluto and its Sputnik Planitia area went to show that the planet might be much more active than we think as it revealed traces of possible surface oceans.
The two studies sought to understand and determine Pluto’s apparent reorientation. One of them was a report conducted by a University of California, Santa Cruz team of scientists led by Francis Nimmo.
The other study was conducted by two University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory scientists, doctoral student James Keane and assistant professor Isamu Matsuyama.
Their study was published last week, on November 17 in the Nature journal.
One of the major elements to point towards the planet’s active nature and also its repositioning is the Sputnik Planitia.
Better known as Pluto’s heart-shaped region, the Sputnik Planitia is a 1,000-kilometer wide basin which may own its current position to ice.
Researchers reached the conclusion that an ice accumulation determined a roll over of the dwarf planet. Such an ice accumulation would also seem to point towards the existence of an ocean under the planet’s subsurface.
A planet is known to rotate and change its spin through two methods. The first, and by far the most common to us is determined by a change in the planet’s obliquity.
This would imply that the spin axis of the respective planet reorients itself in relation to the solar system in which it orbits.
The second reorientation is determined by a true polar wander. This would imply that the planet maintains its spin axis with respect to the solar system, but the planet reorients itself.
It was determined that planets tend to spin so as to reorient their extra and deficit masses in relation to the equator.
This means that mass deficits will be placed closer to a pole whilst mass excesses will be in a closer location to the equator.
Pluto has a different spinning axis than the one here on Earth. As such, most of the Sun’s light goes to the planet’s poles. This also means that, in contrast to Earth, Pluto’s equatorial zones are extremely cold, all year round.
When also taking into account Pluto’s distance from the Sun, the planet’s lower equatorial areas are believed to register extreme temperatures.
It is believed that they can go as low as -400 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be cold enough to freeze nitrogen and turn it into a solid.
Scientists reached the conclusion that each time that Pluto goes around the Sun, its frozen gasses such as nitrogen melt, re-condense, and then result in snowfalls.
The Sputnik Planitia snowfalls then freeze solid, accumulate, and in time, rotate the planet. The melting and freezing process could also come to explain the cracks and fault tensions spotted by the New Horizons mission.
As the water goes through expansion and contraction processes, it may lead to surface cracks and breaks on a planetary level.
It would also indicate that the polar wander phenomenon is still active on Pluto. This would point towards the fact that its geology and natural formations are or may be linked to volatile processes.
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