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New Horizons •

Pluto was downgraded to the status of dwarf planet because it is surrounded by large objects.

(Mirror Daily, United States) – Pluto, the once ninth planet of our solar system has been the center of attention in the astronomer’s community lately. The main reason is the data sent by the New Horizons spacecraft last year. Finally, researchers finished studying it and started publishing their work. The latest such article suggests that Pluto had a thick atmosphere and liquid lakes.

Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons project, declared at the most recent press briefing during the Planetary and Lunar Science Conference that took place in Woodlands, Texas, that Pluto has a thick atmosphere and liquid lakes.

According to Stern, the atmospheric pressure of the dwarf planet varied over millions of years. The astronomer believes that the variation is an important clue to the status of running liquids on the dwarf’s surface.

The seasons on the dwarf planet situated in the Kuiper Belt were more chaotic than those that we have on Earth. But the climates were approximately the same. The main difference was that while Arctic nights last a couple of months on the green planet, on Pluto they lasted for years.

Some of Pluto’s parts are situated in both the arctic and tropical regions while others are permanently tropical. The latter would explain the presence of less volatile substances, such as methane and water ice in the Cthulhu Region.

Stern also said that Pluto’s atmosphere allowed once a pressure 10, 000 times higher than Earth’s sea level. This amounts of pressure combined with the extremely low temperatures allowed nitrogen to flow in its liquid form.

If his speculations are true, then it means that the heart shape that can be seen on the surface of the protoplanet is the relic of a great liquid lake. The main difference between Earth’s Caspian Sea and the Tombaugh Regio water accumulation is that the latter was filled with liquid nitrogen, not water.

But New Horizons also sent back a large amount of information about the five moons that orbit the protoplanet. Charon, the largest and oldest was discovered in 1978. Hydra and Nix were spotted just before the departure of New Horizons in January 2006 while Styx and Kerberos were registered as official moons of Pluto by the time the spacecraft was already en route.

The team of researchers that analyzed the data sent back by the NASA spacecraft determined that the satellites were formed after the crash of a planetesimal with the dwarf’s surface.

It seems that the distant celestial body is still filled with surprises. Pluto had a thick atmosphere and liquid lakes made out of nitrogen. It’s a shame humankind wasn’t so into space travel 800,000 years ago.

Image source: Wikimedia

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