by Ron Sparkman| @UpportunityU
Five detailed reports on Pluto were released in the journal Science this week, showcasing the vivid landscapes of Pluto and its orbiting moons like Charon. These reports come in the wake of the stunning amount of information still pouring in from the New Horizons mission that hit Pluto last year. “I don’t know any other place in the entirety of the outer solar system where you see anything like this,” said Alan Stern, lead investigator for New Horizons.
This evidence firmly places Pluto in an area of geologic activity similar to terrestrial planets like Earth or Mars, which was wholly unexpected with a planetary body that far away from the sun. This level of liveliness could stem from the varying forms of subsurface ices on the dwarf planet — methane will be present in one area, while water or nitrogen exists in others. These slowly freezing subterranean pools could be giving off enough heat to keep the planet active for the last few billion years.
Water and heat will always pique the interest of any planetary scientist because its similarity to moons with subsurface liquid bodies like Enceladus or Titan could mean life. While it’s purely speculation at this point, it’s still interesting to ponder. Life could be anywhere.
One would find it difficult to argue that Pluto has shaped up to be one of the most interesting enigmas in our solar system. The New Horizons mission will continue to receive data on the planet with the “broken heart” throughout the spring. Stay tuned for more details.