Pluto’s famous heart-shaped feature caused the dwarf planet to roll over the eons, and this reorientation probably wouldn’t have been possible without a subsurface ocean, new research suggests.
The left lobe of Pluto’s “heart” is a 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) plain called Sputnik Planitia (formerly known as Sputnik Planum), which astronomers think is an enormous impact crater. This basin has been filling with nitrogen ice over the years and now contains huge amounts of the stuff. Indeed, observations by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by Pluto last year, suggest that Sputnik Planitia’s ice may be up to 6 miles (10 km) thick. Continue reading Pluto’s Wandering Heart Hints at Subsurface Ocean
Water ice is surprisingly abundant on Pluto’s surface, a new map of the dwarf planet reveals. Scientists created the map using data collected by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its epic flyby of Pluto last July. The new map is more sensitive than an earlier version also produced using flyby observations, and thus shows more water ice — the dwarf planet’s bedrock material — cropping up across Pluto’s surface than had been seen previously, NASA officials said. Continue reading Pluto Frosted With Surprising Amounts of Water Ice
Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is cloaked in darkness, with just a tiny sliver lit up by the distant sun, in a newly released photo.
Continue reading Night Falls on Pluto’s Largest Moon Charon
Pluto continues to be full of surprises. The latest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons team include spinning moons and the possibility of Pluto having two ice volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) on its surface. These ice volcanoes may have been active in Pluto’s recent geological past. Continue reading Pluto’s Ice Volcanoes and Spinning Moons