By Jonny Lupsha, News Editor
The ancient planet Pluto might once have looked a lot different than it is today, CNN reported. Now a frozen planet that is reaching nearly -400 degrees Fahrenheit, the celestial body may have once been warm and welcomed bodies of water. Our knowledge of Pluto is still limited.
According to CNN, Pluto as we know it today might not represent its original environment. “Using geological observations of Pluto’s surface, new research suggests that Pluto actually started in a hot-forming scenario,” the article says. “The researchers modeled and compared hot and cold formation scenarios and found that Pluto’s surface characteristics correspond best to heat. In this scenario, the liquid ocean would slowly freeze over time, but not completely, and cause the extension faults seen in Pluto’s icy crust.
This drastic change in Pluto’s environment is just another example of the distance we have to travel to learn more about the planet itself.
What we know about Pluto partly comes from the date it was discovered.
“Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh,” said Dr SabIdo Stanley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “He painstakingly spent many nights at the telescope, looking at photographic plates where the images from the telescopes were stored.”
Dr Stanley said Pluto’s diameter is less than 2,400 kilometers. This means that it is smaller than seven of the moons in our solar system, including Neptune’s Triton moon and Earth’s moon. In fact, it is 55% smaller than the moon of Jupiter Ganymede, which is the largest moon in our solar system.
“In horizontal extent, Pluto is comparable to about half of the continental United States,” she said. “The average density of Pluto is around 1,900 kilograms per cubic meter. This tells us that Pluto is a mixture of ice and rock, much less dense than our Moon, and slightly less dense than Triton or Ganymede.
New Horizons Mission
Dr Stanley said that due to Pluto’s elliptical orbit around the Sun, it is often much further from Earth than at other times. This makes it much harder to reach and study. Additionally, scientists believe Pluto’s atmosphere may change due to its distance from the Sun, and they wanted to be able to study it while it was at its closest distance and at maximum heating effect. solar. To do this, they designed the New Horizons mission.
“The New Horizons spacecraft was launched in January 2006, ”she said. “At the time, its launch speed of 10 miles per second, or over 36,000 miles per hour, made it the fastest spacecraft ever launched. About 13 months after launch, the spacecraft flew over Jupiter for gravitational assistance, which accelerated the spacecraft to about 50,000 miles per hour.
“This boost was canceled for three years New horizonis the flight time for Pluto.
According to Dr. Stanley, after the flyby of Jupiter, the New Horizons spacecraft has entered a state of programmed hibernation for more than seven years. It wasn’t until July 15, 2015 that scientists started receiving data from the spacecraft just outside Pluto. Due to the spacecraft’s distance from Earth, it took 15 months to receive the six gigabytes of data it captured. However, it was worth the wait. New Horizons brought us invaluable insight into the dwarf planet we could only dream of before.
Due to Pluto’s distance from us, studying it is a very tedious job. However, thanks to missions like New Horizons, we continue to learn fascinating information about it.
Dr Sabine Stanley, Ph.D., contributed to this article. Dr Stanley is Distinguished Bloomberg Professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She received a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Toronto, followed by a Masters and Doctorate. degrees in geophysics from Harvard University.