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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
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  • 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.

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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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A New Tool May Aid Patients To Detect Urine Blockage

Surgeons are developing a new smartphone-based tool that can detect urethral or urine blockage, potentially making it easier for patients to test themselves for the condition from the comfort of their own homes.

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Surgeons are developing a new smartphone-based tool that can detect urethral or urine blockage, potentially making it easier for patients to test themselves for the condition from the comfort of their own homes.

The novel technique could take high-speed photography which could capture subtle differences between a normal steady stream of liquid and a stream of liquid with an obstruction.

Urethral strictures are a slowing or blocking of the natural flow of urine due to an injury or infection. It is normally diagnosed by uroflowmetry, a test administered at a physician’s office.

“The problem is that patient follow-up after we treat this condition is very poor,” said Matthew Gretzer, Associate Professor at the University of Arizona in the US.

“But we need patients to come back to our clinic for a uroflow test to determine if the obstruction is still present,” he added.

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In order to test Gretzer’s hypothesis on high-speed photography, the team created a model of a urethral structure using tubing hooked to a saline bag that could drain through.

Saline fluid was passed through the tubing with and without blockages, created using 3D printed strictures, placed within the tubing. High-speed photography captured both the regular and blocked stream of liquid exiting the tube.

Gretzer contended that photos can be a medium to diagnose blockages and he hopes that patients could send him these images to analyse and make the diagnosis. He plans to create a mobile app which can be downloaded by the patients.

“All patients would need to do is take high-speed images of their urine flow using a strobe light,” Gretzer said.

“Strobe light apps are readily available right now for people to use on their phones”.

Also Read: Astronauts from Clemson University in US Believe Human Urine Can Help Safer Space Travel

According to the researchers, as fluid exits an opening, a natural breakpoint occurs where the liquid stream forms droplets, but with obstructions in place, it changes.

The results showed that by analysing photos, they could measure the length to this point of droplet formation. This length then directly related to the presence of an obstruction in the tube. (IANS)