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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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Partial Shutdown of US Delays Space Missions, But NASA Not Grounded

Other active space missions includes NASA probes OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons spacecraft that continue to gather data in Earth orbit and the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond, the report said

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People rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown in Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

The partial shutdown of the US federal government has had a serious impact on the country’s space agency NASA and development work on most future space missions has been slowed or suspended.

However, NASA has not been totally grounded by the partial government shutdown that began on December 22, after last-minute negotiations in Congress failed to end a budget standoff.

Over 95 per cent of the space agency’s employees have been furloughed. As a result, various research projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope has been put on hold, the Space.com reported on Wednesday.

Hubble suffered a mechanical problem that only furloughed NASA employees could repair.

Many workers also gathered outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston to protest the shutdown and its deleterious effects on their lives and the nation’s space programmes.

The Telescope facilities that have so far remained open during the shutdown will soon run out of money and cease operations.

This includes the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a federally funded organization that operates the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Large Array (VLA), the report noted.

The partial shutdown become the longest on record after January 12, overtaking the previous record of the 21-day impasse in 1995-96 under then President Bill Clinton.

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US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

President Donald Trump and the Congress have been at loggerheads over his demand to include in the budget $5.7 billion funding for building a border wall along the Mexico border. Democratic leaders have rejected his call.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), also called the “flying telescope” has also ceased operations since the shutdown.

The telescope, which is mounted to the fuselage of a Boeing 747 aircraft, has not flown since the shutdown began, the report said.

However, despite the shutdown some “excepted” employees remained at work, assisting astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and other space missions, the report said.

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Last week, astronauts aboard the ISS conducted a range of scientific experiments and public-outreach work. They engaged in an orbital Q&A with school kids and answered a variety of questions, from the nature of the research performed aboard the ISS to the type of training astronauts receive to whether your ears pop in space.

On January 13, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule departed the orbiting lab for Earth, eventually splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The robotic Dragon brought down important scientific research and hardware for examination here on terra firma.

Other active space missions includes NASA probes OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons spacecraft that continue to gather data in Earth orbit and the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond, the report said.  (IANS)