One of the Coldest Objects in the Solar System Might've Had a Violently Hot Start
Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI
From the popular mechanics
A new look at images of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has given insight into the creation of the dwarf planet.
Pluto once had a huge underground sea.
Scientists believe that this ancient ocean has formed quickly and violently.
When Pluto zipped the New Horizons spaceship in 2015, stunning images were taken that revealed intricate details on the frozen surface of the dwarf planet.
Scientists have long believed that Pluto's ancient subterranean sea slowly formed over millions of years when radioactive decay melted the ice on the dwarf planet. New research suggests that the frozen world may have had a "hot start" where the heat from meteorite strikes that were trapped on the protozoan planet quickly and violently formed a huge underground sea.
To search for clues to the dwarf planet's early years, a team of researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Southwest Research Institute looked at the vast treasure trove of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. Like the shaped valleys and high mountains carved into the earth's surface, Pluto's surface features reveal information about how the world was formed. The team published its results on June 22 in Nature Geoscience.
Photo credit: NASA / Laboratory for Applied Physics at Johns Hopkins University / Southwest Research Institute / Alex Parker
After analyzing the bizarre surface features of the dwarf planet, the team created a series of computer models that examined the different ways the planet was formed. "If it had started cold and the ice had melted inside, Pluto would have contracted and we should see compression features on its surface, while when it started hot it should expand when the ocean is frozen and we should see expansion features on the surface See surface, "planetary Scientist Carver Bierson, a PhD student at UCSC, said in a statement.
The team found only evidence of enhancement features - both ancient and modern - that suggest that a short, violent birth could have given way to an early ocean. The team then calculated what the dwarf planet would need to start as a heated body. Two scenarios explain how early Pluto brought the heat: energy from radioactive decay warmed the protozoan planet or was bombarded by nearby material, and the energy from these impacts would have triggered the melting.
However, timing is important. If the formation of Pluto had taken too long, according to their calculations, the heat generated by the gravitational energy of these impacts would have escaped into space. From a geological point of view, Pluto's creation should have taken place on the order of around 30,000 years. The researchers also suggest that this could change our understanding of the creation of other Kuiper belt objects such as Eris and MakeMake.
But there is so much more to discover in the frozen world. When New Horizons came by, it could only capture a small part of Pluto's surface in detail. "We may have accidentally missed an ancient terrain where large-scale compression was recorded," Bierson told Space.com. "You can imagine that if you only look at the geology of a quarter of the earth's surface you could learn a lot, but you would also lack a context. At the moment we can only work with what we have."
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