New Horizon’s Pluto, What Have We Learned

So what more do we know about this mysterious dwarf planet that spins on the outskirts of our solar system? As it turns out, we’ve learned a lot and will keep learning more as scientists continue to analyze the data from New Horizons.

Pluto Surface Scale - NASA

Pluto Surface Scale – NASA

Pluto has a cold heart! Thanks to New Horizons’ measurements, we now know that the heart-shaped area is made of frost. Pluto’s surface is mostly icy mountains and plains. The new images we acquired from New Horizons show that Pluto has icy mountain ranges that reach as high as 11,000 feet.

Pluto also has smooth ice plains, as well as ice flows and nitrogen ice glaciers moving across its surface. Pluto is larger than we thought. Perhaps the most controversial discovery is how large Pluto is: we now believe that it measures about 1,473 miles in diameter, bigger than expected.

Pluto’s & Charon’s surface is younger than we thought. If Pluto’s & Charon’s surface were older, it would have the impact craters to show for it. Pluto’s face contains no such craters, which suggests that the dwarf planet’s surface and its moon are only around 100 million years old.

Pluto’s atmosphere is thin and hazy. Because Pluto’s mass fell by half in just a few years, scientists now believe that the loss in mass is a result of Pluto’s thin, potentially van-ishing atmosphere. And now we know more about that atmosphere because images taken by New Horizons show Pluto’s silhouette surrounded by a ring of sunlight, revealing a hazy atmosphere reach-ing out to about 100 miles above the surface.

Pluto is red. We now know that Pluto’s color is a red-dish-brown. Scientists believe Pluto’s reddish color comes from something that happens to the atmosphere: when cosmic rays and ultraviolet light hit the methane in Pluto’s atmosphere, hydrocarbon molecules form, creating a red color.

Pluto is really cold. Pluto’s location in the farthest reaches of the solar system is cold. Pluto’s average temperature hovers around the -390 degree Fahrenheit mark, which explains why it’s covered in frost, ice plains and icy mountains.

Pluto has a comet-like tail. Another thing we learned about Pluto’s atmosphere is that it sweeps behind the planet, similar to a comet’s tail. Even though it’s so far away from the sun, the solar wind still affects the dwarf planet’s mostly nitrogen atmosphere — so much that this wind blows back part of the thin atmosphere to form a tail.

Pluto in False Color - NASA

Pluto in False Color – NASA

Pluto is still full of surprises.

Although New Horizons recently said goodbye to Pluto, we’re really only just saying hello. It will probably take scientists over a year to analyze all the data sent back from New Horizons about Pluto, and it will continue to surprise us as we learn more about the dwarf planet with a heart that has captured our hearts. (Info By Robin Burks, Tech Times)

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