Experts say that Pluto's "icy heart" is a bright, two-lobed feature on its surface and has been the primary reason that it has caught the researchers' attention ever since its discovery by the NASA New Horizons team in 2015. A new simulation has recently found that the weight of nitrogen ice in Pluto's iconic feature might have been the cause of the crack to its crust, which, in turn has left a large basin.The basin that resembles the frozen mud cracks here on Earth has been named "Sputnik Planum" after the Earth's first artificial satellite.
How Was The Study Conducted?
In one of his statements reported by Daily Mail, study lead author Professor Douglas Hamilton, explains that "Sputnik Planitia" is Pluto's big white heart, which happens to be the most prominent feature on the dwarf planet. Furthermore, the study findings suggest that Sputnik Planitia formed early in Pluto's history and that its attributes are inevitable consequences of evolutionary processes. Prof. Hamilton adds that in a more specific sense, it is the western half of the heart, which consists of deep deposits of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide ices.
In his study, Phys Org reports that Prof. Hamilton has developed his own model and has found that the initial location of Sputnik Planitia could be explained by Pluto's unusual climate and its spin axis, which is tilted by 120 degrees. Through this simulation, it has shown that a small ice deposit naturally attracts more ices by reflecting away solar light and heat. Temperatures remain low, which attracts more ice and keeps the temperature low, and the cycle repeats. This positive feedback phenomenon, called the runaway albedo effect, would eventually lead to a single dominating ice cap, like the one observed on Pluto. However, Pluto's basin is significantly larger than the volume of ice it contains today, suggesting that Pluto's heart has been slowly losing mass over time, almost as if it was wasting away.
Meanwhile, Professor Hamilton has highly emphasized that the team's work with Pluto is far from over. He further adds that as a team, they will be looking for evidence both for and against what they have found, claiming that it will be beneficial if another spacecraft would be sent to Pluto.