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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

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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.

Pluto
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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Denmark Hopes to Set Example for World with Ambitious Scheme to Cut Carbon Emissions by 70%

To be honest, for the climate, even if we just close down our country tomorrow, it wouldn't help much

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FILE - Denmark's Climate and Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen speaks during an interview in Copenhagen, Denmark, Aug.16, 2019. VOA

Denmark’s official in charge of climate matters says his country hopes to set an example for the world with an ambitious scheme to cut carbon emissions by 70% in little more than a decade, but it has no illusions that it can have a meaningful impact on global warming by itself.

“To be honest, for the climate, even if we just close down our country tomorrow, it wouldn’t help much,” Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s top climate and energy official, told VOA during a visit to Washington this week. “I guess you can argue: Does it really matter what you do?”

Jørgensen said Denmark accounts for just 0.1% of the world’s carbon emissions, a drop in the bucket compared with emissions from the largest polluters such as China, the United States and India. But he said, “The reason we do these things anyway is that if we succeed in doing that, then hopefully we’ll inspire others.”

Jørgensen, who will be in New York next week to promote his country’s climate agenda at the United Nations, said his country hopes to demonstrate that it can carry out a green transformation and still be competitive in the global marketplace. In the process, it expects to develop new technologies that “other countries can also use.”

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People hold placards during the Global Climate Strike at Raadhuspladsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sept. 20, 2019. VOA

Stages of debate

According to Jørgensen, the climate debate in Denmark has gone through several stages since the issue started to enter the public’s consciousness about 15 or 20 years ago.

At that time, he said, some in Denmark still questioned how real climate change was and whether humans had anything to do with it. That was followed by a period in which the public by and large understood that climate change was real, but some remained reluctant to devote resources to the problem, concerned that efforts by Denmark alone would be futile.

Now, he said, most people agree on the nature of the problem. Looking out the window, “they see droughts, they see flooding, they see extreme weather phenomena,” he said. “We are also a nation that’s closely connected to Greenland,” one of the places where climate change is most evident in the form of melting glaciers.

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With that consensus, the debate has shifted to an energetic discussion about the best policy instruments to address the problem.

The issue so dominated Danish general elections in June that the campaign has been described as the country’s “first climate election,” with the question of how to achieve a green transformation topping the agenda in debates among the candidates for prime minister and other posts.

Looking beyond Denmark, Jørgensen said Denmark and its partners in the European Union were sad to see the United States withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and hope it will reconsider. “There’s nothing I would hope more than the U.S. taking leadership on the global stage also on green issues,” he said.

Join the battle

Denmark, World, Scheme
Denmark’s official in charge of climate matters says his country hopes to set an example for the world with an ambitious scheme to cut carbon emissions by 70% in little more than a decade. Pixabay

Meanwhile, Jørgensen said, all countries and especially the “big growing economies” must join in the battle to prevent climate change “from becoming irreversible and having the most catastrophic consequences.”

But he acknowledges the frustration of newly developing countries, which are only now acquiring energy-intensive amenities that the developed nations have long enjoyed.

“It’s not up to us who’ve been polluting and emitting greenhouse gases for more than 100 years — when I say us, I mean the West, the United States, Europe — it’s not up to us to tell them, ‘No, you cannot drive a car, you cannot buy a fridge or an air conditioner, no, you can’t start to eat meat a few times a week because you can afford it all of a sudden because you’ve come out of poverty.’ ”

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Rather, he said, it is up to Denmark and the other developed countries to say, “Can we help you in any way to make that growth green?” (VOA)