Scientists claim that the dwarf planet’s heart-shaped impact basin known as Tombaugh Regio dragged the icy world into a new position in the distant past. Researchers also said that the planet’s ‘Heart’ may be still slowly pushing the frozen world into a different position nowadays too.
Scientists explained that The Heart is covered in a thick layer of frozen nitrogen which makes the region denser than the rest of the planet. This aspect paired with the gravitational pull of Pluto’s largest moon Charon led to a new orientation for the dwarf planet.
The findings were unveiled last week during the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference.
Planetary scientists speculate that Sputnik Planum, a region located in the western parts of Tombaugh Regio, is a former crater that is currently filled with tons of frozen nitrogen. Researchers explained that due to its tilted axis, Pluto’s poles are exposed to more sunlight while other regions are shrouded in darkness.
In these regions, nitrogen condenses over the year, but as the planet moves around the sun nitrogen ice and other condensed gases regain their gaseous form on one side and they condense on the other side of the tiny planet.
Scientists believe that as nitrogen turns into ice on The Heart, a thick layer of a hundred meters emerges and starts to influence the planet’s orientation. According to the team, the excess mass wants to migrate to the equator which can tip the planet over in the process.
The team used data provided by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015 to create the computer models that have revealed the new theory.
Scientists simulated Sputnik Planum and its influence on the planet’s axis as it builds up more ice. The models showed that the dwarf planet’s poles are still shifting and so does its spin axis.
Study investigators noted that Pluto is far from being a cold dead world as they had assumed before the flyby. New data shows that it is a highly active world on a geological level.
‘That’s different from most other planets and moons in our solar system.’
said James Tuttle Keane, senior researcher involved in the analysis and PhD candidate at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, AZ.
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