Scientists are calling this one of the biggest geological discoveries in the last few decades of planetary exploration.
As we recently reported, a new “twilight zone” image captures some impressive visuals of the surface of Pluto via NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft — but another recent discovery reveals some incredible things about what’s going on deep in the heart of the dwarf planet
NASA scientists are describing what’s going on underneath the frigid surface of Pluto has something like a cosmic “lava lamp,” as a process called convection constantly replaces older surface ices with new material, according to a NASA statement.
Scientists used computer models and combined them with topographic and compositional data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it blasted past Pluto in a flyby last July to determine just what the iceball looks like underneath — and apparently, it’s anything but cold and inactive.
Far from being an ice ball that doesn’t change at all so far from the sun, its surface, or specifically the heart-shaped Sputnik Planum, is covered with churning convective cells about 10 to 30 miles across that are less than one million years old, indicating a very active geology on Pluto.
Pluto’s internal heat is described as “modest” by scientists, but it’s more than enough to warm up thte solid nitrogen, sending up blobs like a lava lamp that then cools off and sinks again.
Scientists are calling it one of the most amazing geological discoveries in the last few decades of planetary exploration, according to the statement.
“This activity probably helps support Pluto’s atmosphere by continually refreshing the surface of ‘the heart,’” William McKinnon, Washington University in St. Louis, said in the statement. “It wouldn’t surprise us to see this process on other dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to find out someday with future exploration missions there.”