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NASA Scientists say, Pluto’s Icy Heart is very much Alive and Kicking

Inside the region known as Sputnik Planum, Strange shapes were seen that suggest the tiny world is constantly repaving its surface with churning ice

Spherical mosaic of New Horizons images showing the expanse of Sputnik Planum (released September 10, 2015). Image source: Wikipedia
  • Scientists find evidence that Pluto’s surfaces are re-paved through convection every 500,000 years
  • The energy to power this activity comes from decaying radioactive elements
  • The movement of nitrogen ice layers helps power the planet’s atmosphere

The primary attraction of the photos that were sent back from NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft, which made a 2015 voyage around Pluto, was the huge heart shape on the planet’s surface. The heart shape is considered to be a plain named Sputnik Planum that has no visible craters that were detectable by New Horizons, leading to the conclusion that it is less than 2 million years old.

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The heart-shaped Sputnik Planum undergoes a very interesting internal activity through which its surface is repaved every 500,000 years. This period may seem very slow on the human clock, but scientists say 500,000 years is rapid on the geographical timeline.

The process, called convection, replaces older nitrogen ice sheets with newer ones, with the help of reservoirs that are several miles deep. The newer layers of ice spread out on the surface and replenish any craters that might have formed, making the plain look perpetually youthful.

New Horizons Probe

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“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 ‘the right stuff,’ meaning something as soft and pliable as solid nitrogen,” noted William McKinnon, who is co-investigator on the New Horizons science team.

The energy to power the continuous processes revolving around convection has its source in the decaying radioactive elements embedded in the surface.

“Not only is it the heart of Pluto, it’s the beating heart,” says Bill McKinnon of Washington University in St Louis. “There are actually things happening. If we were to come back in 100,000 years, the pattern would be markedly altered.”

It is yet uncertain whether this feature is unique to Pluto’s surface, or it is also common to other planets found in the neighborhood of Pluto, such as Makemake or Eris. Celestial bodies in the Kuiper Belt could also possess these surfaces. The constant movement of nitrogen ice sheets is believed to help support Pluto’s atmosphere.

-by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @saurabhbodas96


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NASA’s instrument to measure Sun’s energy

For instance, spectral irradiance measurements of the Sun's ultraviolet radiation are critical to understanding the ozone layer -- Earth's natural sunscreen

NASA to release two missions focused on moon soon in 2022. Pixabay
NASA's new instrument can measure incoming solar energy. Pixabay
  • NASA’s new instrument can measure Sun’s incoming energy
  • The instrument is called Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1)
  • This can help bring in an energy revolution in future

To continue long-term measurements of the Sun’s incoming energy, NASA has powered on a new instrument installed on the International Space Station (ISS).

Solar energy is one of the biggest energy sources in the world.

The instrument, Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1), became fully operational with all instruments collecting science data as of this March, NASA said.

“TSIS-1 extends a long data record that helps us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth’s radiation budget, ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, and ecosystems, and the effects that solar variability has on the Earth system and climate change,” said Dong Wu, TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. TSIS-1 studies the total amount of light energy emitted by the Sun using the Total Irradiance Monitor, one of two sensors onboard.

Also Read: Why is the Sun’s atmosphere much hotter than its surface

This sensor’s data will give scientists a better understanding of Earth’s primary energy supply and provide information to help improve models simulating the planet’s climate.

The second onboard sensor, called the Spectral Irradiance Monitor, measures how the Sun’s energy is distributed over the ultraviolet, visible and infrared regions of light. Measuring the distribution of the Sun’s energy is important because each wavelength of light interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere differently.

Measuring solar energy is one big technological developement. Pixabay

For instance, spectral irradiance measurements of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation are critical to understanding the ozone layer — Earth’s natural sunscreen that protects life from harmful radiation.

“All systems are operating within their expected ranges,” said Peter Pilewskie, TSIS-1 lead scientist at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in the US. IANS