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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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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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Tiny Pacemakers Could Be Game Changers for Heart Patients

A pacemaker is a medical device which uses electrical impulses, delivered by electrodes contracting the heart muscles, to regulate the beating of the heart

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The tiny pacemakers are not right for all patients, but as the technology develops, more people will be able to benefit from the procedure.
The tiny pacemakers are not right for all patients, but as the technology develops, more people will be able to benefit from the procedure. Wikimedia Commons

Tiny, new pacemakers are making headway around the world. One type, the Micra, is keeping 15,000 people’s hearts beating in 40 countries, according to manufacturer Medtronic. One of those people is Mary Lou Trejo, a senior citizen who lives in Ohio.

A healthy heart has its own pacemaker that establishes its rhythm, but people like Trejo need the help of an artificial device.

Trejo comes from a family with a history of heart disease. Her heart skipped beats, and she could feel it going out of rhythm. Trejo wanted to do something to advance heart health, so in 2014, she volunteered to participate in a clinical trial for the Micra pacemaker. The device is 24 millimetres long implanted, one-tenth the size of traditional pacemakers.

Traditional pacemakers

Most pacemakers rely on batteries placed under the skin, usually just below the collarbone. Sometimes patients get infections after the surgery or have difficulty healing from the incision.

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Traditional pacemakers use leads with electrodes on one end that are threaded through blood vessels to connect to the heart. There can be problems with the leads as well.

A healthy heart has its own pacemaker that establishes its rhythm, but people like Trejo need the help of an artificial device.
A healthy heart has its own pacemaker that establishes its rhythm, but people like Trejo need the help of an artificial device. Wikimedia Commons

Dr Ralph Augostini at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center says a tiny pacemaker like the Micra avoids all of these problems.

“The electrodes are part of the can, and therefore it eliminates the lead,” he said. There’s no incision in the chest to become infected and no chance of complications with the leads.

Small and self-contained

Augostini implanted Trejo’s pacemaker in 2014. He threaded the entire device through an artery in her leg up to her heart. The pacemaker has small, flexible tines that anchor it into the folds of the heart muscle. Once it’s in place, the doctor gives it a tug to make sure the pacemaker is stable before removing the catheter used to place it in the heart.

The Wexner Medical Center was one of the sites that participated in the Micra clinical trial. Since the Micra received FDA approval in 2016, Medtronic has been training more physicians on the procedure. A company spokesman told VOA that this device is becoming available at other centres across the U.S. and countries throughout the world.

Traditional pacemakers use leads with electrodes on one end that are threaded through blood vessels to connect to the heart.
Traditional pacemakers use leads with electrodes on one end that are threaded through blood vessels to connect to the heart. Wikimedia Commons

Dr John Hummell, a cardiologist at the Wexner Medical Center, has studied the effectiveness of this new generation of pacemakers.

“We don’t leave any wires behind and the pacemaker, the battery, the wire is all just a tiny little piece of metal sitting down in the heart,” he said. Medtronic said the results of the clinical trial showed a success rate of 99.6 percent.

Dr Richard Weachter, with the University of Missouri Health Care, says the leadless pacemakers’ complication rates are about half the rate of traditional pacemakers.

The battery lasts for 14 years and after that, Weachter said, doctors, can implant another one in the same chamber of the heart. They can repeat the procedure a third time if needed.

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The pacemaker activates only when necessary to keep the heart beating normally. Studies show that the Micra and other leadless pacemakers are safe and effective.

These tiny pacemakers are not right for all patients, but as the technology develops, more people will be able to benefit from the procedure. Four years after her implant, Trejo’s doctors say she is doing fine. (VOA)