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Pluto's Icy Heart is 'Beating' Like a 'Cosmic Lava Lamp', Study Says

Jun 08, 2016 07:21 AM EDT
New Horizons Nears July 14 Flyby Of Pluto
Scientists from Brown University have used images from NASA's New Horizon to create a simulation of Pluto that shows the possible existence of a liquid ocean under the planet's icy crust.
(Photo : NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI via Getty Images)

The "icy" spiders observed on the surface of Pluto caused a stir in the scientific community when it was discovered. But it is not the only perplexing find about the dwarf planet.

Recent studies suggest that Pluto's icy heart is rising and falling due to bubbles of nitrogen ice. Scientists dubbed the findings as the beating of Pluto's heart like a 'cosmic lava lamp."

Two new studies came up with the findings that Pluto's center appears to be beating, rising and falling which occurs in cycles. Researchers are using the data gathered by the Pluto flyby in July 2015 using NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. The mission provided scientists with the most detailed images of Pluto this generation is most likely to see, according to a report. And apparently, more.

It was established earlier that Pluto has a portion called Sputnik Planum, which scientists refers to as Pluto's heart. Later on, more scientists centered their research on Pluto's heart because they believe that it wasn't just a dead, icy spot. It is also because it doesn't have any signs of impact craters compared to the rest of the surface.

"For the first time, we can determine what these strange welts on the ice surface of Pluto really are," said William B. Mckinnon of the Washington University who led the study, in a statement.

Based on the papers from the Washington University, Pluto's heart is like a cosmic lava lamp because the icy portion of its heart replenishes and renews ice content due to a process called thermal convection. 

With convection, older ice is replaced with fresh materials.

"We found evidence that even on a distant cold planet billions of miles from Earth, there is sufficient energy for vigorous geological activity, as long as you have something as soft and pliable as nitrogen ice," said Mckinnon in a press release published by Science Daily.

Researchers used a convection modeling technique to study Pluto's icy beating heart. According to the study, when Pluto's internal heat warms up the nitrogen-ice reservoir in the Sputnik Planum, the ice becomes buoyant and rise up in "blobs", then it will cool down to renew the cycle again and again.

This new finding gives scientists and researchers hope that Pluto is not just an icy celestial body situated at the edge of the Solar System. As the data from the New Horizons continuously flood the Earth until today, scientists will likely find more interesting data about the dwarf planet in the coming days.


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