NASA breakthrough: How ‘huge surprise’ was discovered on Pluto – ‘Still active!’

Pluto, which was classified a planet until the discovery of Elis in 2005, sits on the Kuiper belt near Neptune. In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a flyby of the space rock, where it snapped up an amazing photo of its atmosphere. However, it made a far more interesting discovery in the short time it stayed in orbit.

Brian Cox revealed during his BBC series “The Planets” how scientists noticed “something strange” about one area in particular.

He said earlier this year: “By far the most recognisable feature is the region known as Tombaugh Regio, or to give it its more popular name, Pluto’s heart.

“The western lobe of the heart is called Sputnik Planitia.

“A giant plain of frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide that stretches for a million square kilometres. 

There’s something very strange about the region

Brian Cox

“And at its edge lies a range of mountains made of pure, frozen water ice that rise up to 6km above the plain.

“But there’s something very strange about the region, something that sets it apart from the rest of this dwarf planet.”

Dr Cox went on to explain how the area appears as an anomaly to the rest of the world.

He added: “The surface of Pluto is covered in craters, the scars of impacts that have taken place over many billions of years, just like the surface of our Moon.

“Except, if you look at Sputnik Planitia, it is absolutely smooth, there are no craters there at all, not a single one.

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“From space, the lack of craters is striking and the closer you look, the stranger the mystery gets.

“Detailed imagery beamed back by New Horizons revealed a network of hexagon and pentagon shapes that crisscross the frozen nitrogen surface.

“A clue to what might be happening can be seen in these images, those kinds of patterns are found elsewhere in nature.”

Dr Cox explained how scientists were stunned when they found out why.

He continued: “These patterns are characteristics of convection, there’s a heat source which is causing the material to rise up, and then cool and fall back again.

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“So what could be happening is there is a heat source deep down which is melting the nitrogen ice and causing it to rise, cool and then fall again, and those currents are constantly resurfacing the area.

“That a small world like Pluto is still active was a huge surprise.

“Our best theory of how this could be is that somewhere deep in its interior there are radioactive elements that generate heat as they decay.”

Dr Cox went on to reveal how scientists now think an ocean of water could be hiding below Pluto’s surface.

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