Apparently, the mystery of Pluto’s “frozen heart” has been solved.
Months ago, images from NASA’s probe of the distant icy planet caused many space enthusiasts to swoon over the depiction of a heart on the planet’s surface. Like many posts on social media, skeptics thought a savvy Photoshop artist created the heart-shaped visual.
However, researchers knew they had discovered something that warranted further investigation. After months of collecting data, a number of theories have emerged that attempts to explain Pluto’s frozen heart terrain. Experts believe the formation was created in similar fashion to ice observed on the planet’s moon, according to Pulse Headlines.
— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) December 1, 2016
Months ago, scientists discovered one of Pluto’s moons, Charon, once housed a frozen ocean. The Inquisitr reported the findings from a NASA mission launched in 2006 as part of a probe into Pluto’s orbital system and the Kuiper Belt.
Data suggests the moon’s outermost surface is composed mostly of ice. Researchers contend that heat radiated wide enough to facilitate a melting of the water body. During the heating and cooling cycles, a body of water formed below the surface.
“Scientists were shocked when the images of Charon were first seen. They did not expect the moon to have such different types of topography. Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute commented on what was expected on Charon.”
The image of a frozen heart on Pluto was discovered last year during a spacecraft flyby. The icy region is located opposite of the moon and is comprised of a mixture of frozen gasses: carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrogen.
Pluto’s moon Charon. 1978 vs 2015 pic.twitter.com/iTjWpmiTco
— World and Science (@WorldAndScience) December 5, 2016
Douglas Hamilton is a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland. He led the study into the mystery surrounding Pluto’s frozen heart. Unlike other space exploration experts, Hamilton and his New Horizons peers believe the heart-like surface configuration could have emerged long ago at a time when Pluto revolved at a faster velocity than it does today. Moreover, they contend it was not formed by a deep impact from an object in the nearby Kuiper-Edgeworth Belt.
Using complex data elements, Hamilton thinks an ocean, which likely exists below the surface, was once closer to the planet’s northern pole. As the planet titled during orbit, temperature fluctuations likely caused periodic freezing and thawing of the planet’s surface.
Over a span of time, ice lures in more ice — the so-called “albedo effect.” Eventually, it led to a surface that resembles a frozen heart. As for the sunken surface, Hamilton believes the weight of the ice caused a wide expanse to sink under its own weight.
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, weighed in on the new developments.
“Sputnik Planitia is one of Pluto’s crown jewels, and understanding its origin is a puzzle.”
“These new papers take us a step closer to unraveling this mystery. Whatever caused Sputnik to form, nothing like it exists anywhere else in the solar system. Work to understand it will continue, but whatever that origin is, one thing is for certain—the exploration of Pluto has created new puzzles for 21st-century planetary science.”
The recent findings give researchers hope that other icy bodies or dwarf planets may house similar formations. As the literature suggests, where there is ice or water, there could be “life.”
The research from Pluto’s icy heart study appears in the journal Nature, dated December 1, 2016.
[Featured Image by NASA/APL/SwRI/Getty Images]