Pluto’s Heart May Have Shaped Planet’s Landscape, Scientists Explained
When scientists first discovered an area of Pluto that resembled a heart, it was thought to be a region born of violence. However, it seems that this may not be the case.
The plane, called Sputnik Planitia, was initially thought to be a massive impact crater that filled with frozen nitrogen and other forms of ice. However, a new study showed that the ice buildup seemed to have come first, and the accumulated material was what eventually pushed the landscape down -- like the way Greenland's ice sheet depressed an entire area here on Earth.
Space.com noted that the study's lead author, Douglas Hamilton, a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland, said in a statement that the heart would have then weighed very heavily for the small planet, leading to a depression.
Centered at 25 degrees north, Hamilton noted that Sputnik Planitia was predicted by models that noted ice could accumulate at about 30 degrees north or south latitude, which means that the discovery of the plane was not an accident. Simply put, its location is noted to be the coldest regions of the planet. Hamilton explained that unlike Earth, the north and south poles of Pluto are actually its hottest areas, not the coldest - a math that for us Earthlings, seem bizarre.
In a simpler but more poetic way, Hamilton explained, "Pluto's big heart weighs heavily on the small planet, leading inevitably to depression."
But why is Sputnik Planitia on the tidal side of the planet? The Los Angeles Times noted that Charon (Pluto's moon) may have had a gravitational tug that pulled the area to its alignment. The explanation, according to Hamilton, has an advantage of providing an explanation on why the basin coincidentally was an ice cap, and why it is located at the coldest latitudes of Pluto, with a longitude opposite Charon.
Still, these theories remain theories -- at least until humans could get another orbiter to look at the dwarf planet. In the meantime, scientists will still have to argue about the possible origin of Pluto's heavy heart.