Back in July NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft made a flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto. This week at the 47th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Science, in Washington, D.C., NASA is talking about what they learned from the data the spacecraft sent back from that flyby. Their findings are surprisingly different from what anyone suspected.
“The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement released Monday. “It’s why we explore — to satisfy our innate curiosity and answer deeper questions about how we got here and what lies beyond the next horizon.”
The first surprise the scientist had was when they saw what looked like volcanoes. The volcanoes are not the typical ones tht we would find here on Earth that would have either ash or lava eruption. Instead these volcanoes would spew a a mixture of methane, ammonia, nitrogeon, and water. These ‘cryovolcanoes’ were a real surprise since it was thought that Pluto was no-longer active and could not possible generate the conditions needed to push up these volatile substances and form volcanoes.
“These are big mountains with a large hole in their summit, and on Earth that generally means one thing — a volcano,” said Oliver White, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif, in the statement. “If they are volcanic, then the summit depression would likely have formed via collapse as material is erupted from underneath.” White also highlighted the “strange hummocky texture of the mountain flanks,” which may represent volcanic flows that have traveled down from the summit region.
A second feature on the surface of Pluto is an area being referred to as ‘Tombaugh Regio’ or Sputnik Planum. The region is heart-shaped and covered with frozen Nitrogen and Methane. What made the region so unusual though is that it is totally devoid of craters. What makes it so unusual is that normally any area on a planet, or dwarf planet in this case, is do to the crater being wiped away by weather. Since Pluto does not generate ant type of weather it means there must be some yet unknown reason for this region.
One big surprise above the surface is that Pluto has more of an atmosphere than scientist thought. The atmosphere doe have one thing in common with Earth since it is mostly Nitrogen. Pluto’s atmosphere is much thinner and spread-out, from lack of gravity, than that on Earth.