Pluto May Have Been Covered With Rivers and Lakes of Liquid Nitrogen

Tuesday, 22 March 2016 - 12:07PM
Space
Solar System
Tuesday, 22 March 2016 - 12:07PM
Pluto May Have Been Covered With Rivers and Lakes of Liquid Nitrogen
Scientists think liquid nitrogen once flowed on Pluto's surface, and may even still lie beneath the ice on the dwarf planet today. New Horizons just sent back more climate data from our former ninth planet, and it indicates that Pluto once hosted rivers and lakes of liquid nitrogen.

Opening quote
"Liquids may have existed on the surface of Pluto in the past," mission leader Alan Stern said at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
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NASA scientists have been using New Horizons data in order to model Pluto's climate and atmospheric pressure over time, and found that at certain times in Pluto's history, the temperature was high enough that the frozen nitrogen we see today would have melted. They have also observed surface features that seem to point to the existence of rivers and lakes, such as a network of grooves on the surface, which would be explained by these new findings.
Opening quote
"We see what for all the world looks to a lot of our team like a former lake," Stern told New Scientist. "It's very smooth, as if a liquid has frozen across one height," he told New Scientist. "It's hard to come up with an alternate model that would explain that morphology."
Closing quote

Pluto is so far away from the Sun (3.67 billion miles), it seems counterintuitive that the temperature would ever rise high enough for the ice to melt. The New Horizons team postulates that Pluto was warmed as a result of its idiosyncratic tilt. Where Earth's tilt of 23 degrees causes the variation in climate we observe, such as the seasons and tropical climates, Pluto has a tilt of a whopping 120 degrees, which has varied wildly over time. As a result, its tropical regions are more widespread and the planet has experienced drastic climate change that could have led to high, ice-melting temperatures.

Opening quote
"Most of Pluto is tropical," said New Horizons team member Richard Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Via The Verge

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NASA
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Solar System

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