The Strange Polygons on Pluto Now have a Scientific Explanation

Pluto is alive from a geological standpoint. It’s a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, which is a ring of worlds beyond Neptune’s orbit. It was the first object identified in the Kuiper belt, and it is still the largest known object in the region.

The heart-shaped glacier on Pluto, which is smaller than Earth’s Moon, is the size of Texas and Oklahoma. Blue skies, spinning moons, mountains as high as the Rockies, and snow, but scarlet snow, abound in this wonderful environment.

Pluto was proclaimed the ninth planet from the Sun after its discovery in 1930. A recent study claims that bizarre geometric structures first seen on the dwarf planet’s surface in 2015 are evidence of a process known as sublimation.

According to a new model, the polygonal nitrogen ice on Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons probe discovered during a flyby froze immediately from vapor rather than passing through a liquid stage in the process.

Adrien Morison, a research fellow at the University of Exeter in England, said his team’s findings are the first modeling-based explanation for why the polygons exist.

“Pluto is still geologically active despite being far away from the sun and having limited internal energy sources,” Morison said in a university statement. “This included at Sputnik Planitia, where the surface conditions allow the gaseous nitrogen in its atmosphere to coexist with solid nitrogen.”

Pluto is the ninth-largest and tenth-massive object known to orbit the Sun directly. It is the largest known trans-Neptunian object in terms of volume, yet it is smaller than Eris in terms of mass.

Pluto is still geologically active despite being far away from the sun and having limited internal energy sources. This included at Sputnik Planitia, where the surface conditions allow the gaseous nitrogen in its atmosphere to coexist with solid nitrogen.

Adrien Morison

Sputnik Planitia, a massive oval-shaped zone spanning Pluto’s equator, is the largest visible geological feature on the planet. The zone is estimated to be 347,500 square miles (900,000 square kilometers) in size and at least 1.2 to 1.8 miles (2 to 3 kilometers) deep, according to estimates from 2016, when it was known as Sputnik Planum.

Pluto’s diameter is only about 1,400 kilometers. It orbits the Sun at a distance of roughly 3.6 billion miles and has a thin atmosphere made largely of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. Pluto’s average temperature is -387°F (-232°C), making it too frigid for life to exist.

Pluto’s orbital period is around 248 years at the moment. Its orbital features differ significantly from those of the planets, which follow nearly circular orbits around the Sun close to the ecliptic, a flat reference plane. Pluto has five known moons orbiting it, the largest of which is Charon.

Numerical simulations were used in the current study to illustrate that as Pluto’s nitrogen cools during sublimation in Sputnik Planitia, it would generate polygons with the same size and topographical amplitude as observed in New Horizons’ photos.

The new model also agrees with bigger global climate simulations that reveal Sputnik Planitia sublimation began one million or two million years ago.

The scientists speculated that this sublimation process may occur on other frozen worlds in the solar system, such as Triton (Neptune’s big moon) or the Kuiper Belt objects Eris and Makemake, which are far out in the solar system.

However, more observations of their surfaces would almost certainly be necessary, necessitating the use of spacecraft. There are currently no missions scheduled to visit these worlds.