What We’ve Learned About Pluto

Mar 19, 2016

Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

By Kenneth Chang

The story of Pluto is largely a story of ice.

On Earth, the only ice is frozen water. On Pluto, nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide also freeze solid.

The most striking feature that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft saw when it flew past Pluto last July was a heart-shape region now named Tombaugh Regio after Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.

The left half is covered by mostly nitrogen snow; the right side is more methane ice.

Eight months since NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft had its quick, close-up look at Pluto, scientists are reaping the scientific rewards from a bounty of data the spacecraft collected. Mission scientists reported their findings in five articles published Thursday in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/17/science/pluto-images-charon-moons-new-horizons-flyby.html

4 comments on “What We’ve Learned About Pluto

  • @OP – link – An Ice Volcano?

    Nitrogen might also flow deep enough to be warmed by the interior and then erupt back at the surface — producing what scientists are surmising might be an ice volcano.

    Volcanism has been detected on the moons and planets of the outer Solar-System, but many of the “rocks” are liquids and gases on Earth.

    The low temperature atmospheres and “geology”, show fluids and solids, but the chemicals involved are quite different according to temperature ranges and the strength of the gravity retaining atmospheres.
    Water is a rock, and it appears that this far out methane and nitrogen, may also be solid rocks.

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  • Pluto having been demoted to dwarf status, astronomers are looking at the possibility of another planet being given its number 9!


    Astrophysicists have outlined what Planet Nine might be like – if indeed it exists.

    In January, researchers at Caltech in the US suggested a large, additional planet might be lurking in the icy outer reaches of the Solar System.

    Now, a team at the University of Bern in Switzerland has worked out what they say are upper and lower limits on how big, bright and cold it might be.

    The study has been accepted by the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    Prof Mike Brown and Dr Konstantin Batygin made their case for the existence of a ninth planet in our Solar System orbiting far beyond even the dwarf world Pluto.

    There are no direct observations of this much bigger object yet, but a search is now underway using the world’s largest telescopes.

    The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists based their findings on the way other far-flung objects are seen to move.

    This prompted the Bern team, Prof Christoph Mordasini and Esther Linder, to use computer simulations to work out basic characteristics for the hypothetical ninth planet.

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  • 3
    Cairsley says:

    To Alan4discussion #2

    Poor Pluto! People are now confused about what best to call it. The term ‘dwarf planet’ seems to have become the usual designation, though this suggests, perhaps unintentionally, that Pluto, though of dwarf status, remains a planet nonetheless, just a smaller than standard one. A little bit confusing. Could astronomers not come up with a better term, a diminutive form of ‘planet’ if they wished to convey the idea of a planetlike object larger than an asteroid but smaller that a planet (assuming there is a clear enough standard of the minimum size of a planet). The word ‘planet’ entered English via Old French from Late Latin ‘planeta’ (which of course came from Greek ‘planetes’ meaning wanderer). In view of this origin of ‘planet’, one could propose calling a heavenly body like Pluto a planetelle (stressed on the final syllable). But if astronomers saw fit to distance such a body from the dignity and status of planets, they ought to come up with a term based on some other etymology. If, for example, astonomers think that Pluto is closer in kind to asteroids than to planets, then they could devise a new term for it based on ‘asteroid’ or some other more easily modified synonym. Or they might like to invent an entirely new word.

    That there may be another planet lurking out there beyond Pluto is an exciting suggestion.

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