Pluto's Surface Is Covered With Nitrogen Ice That Flows Like Sea

By Dipannita - 03 Jun '16 09:45AM

NASA's New Horizons probe took almost 10 years to reach the former ninth planet of the solar system, Pluto. When the researchers finally looked at the surface of the dwarf planet, they were left surprised as the reality turned out to be majorly different from what was initially expected.

When the New Horizons probe arrived at Pluto, it was observed that a major part of its surface was devoid of any impact from the craters. This indicated toward the young age of the planet. However, the researchers have now come up with a study that explains how this could be possible for an old and inactive planet like - it could be possible because of convecting nitrogen ice.

The region currently being investigated by the researchers includes Sputnik Planum, which is observed in almost all Pluto images sent by the probe. According to NASA researchers, the Sputnik Planum might be only a few million years old. On the other hand, Pluto, which was formed billions of years ago is not capable enough to support all geological processes.

Therefore, the researchers decided to carry out two parallel studies to determine how this kind of a system could be created and they came up with similar findings.

On Earth, nitrogen forms a part of the atmosphere. But on Pluto, nitrogen is present well below the freezing point, thus paving way for nitrogen ice. This ice sheet of nitrogen is present on the surface of Sputnik Planum. Although from a distance, this sheet might look smooth and plain. However, a close projection of the region has revealed that the surface actually has polygonal bulges.

The borders between these bulges are occupied by short and irregular peaks, which are primarily formed of water ice floating on the top of nitrogen. The researchers simulated the same conditions as on Pluto and discovered that the simulated convections produced the same patterns. This indicates that turnover of nitrogen ice on the surface of Pluto is a continuous process, which overrides the impact of craters in the region.

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