Pluto was downgraded as a dwarf planet in 2006 but researchers who analyzed the data sent by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft have revealed that the surface of the former ninth planet is as varied and complex as any other planet in the Solar System.
In five new studies published in the journal Science, researchers revealed what an interesting world Pluto is. Data sent by the New Horizons probe, which made a historic close fly-by in Pluto in July last year, revealed a range of landscapes that evolved over time.
Researchers who processed and analyzed Pluto's data found that the alien world has a large rocky core whose elemental composition is similar to that of the Earth. This core is surrounded by a mantle of water ice coated with a layer of more volatile ices such as carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen. Each of these sublimates precipitates and flows across the surface of the extraterrestrial world.
The researchers believe that the interaction between these ices with inert and sturdy water ice in Pluto over eons resulted in the diverse landscape of the dwarf planet.
Will Grundy from the Lowell Observatory Arizona and author of one of the papers said that the variations in the distribution of the volatile ices on Pluto hint of cycles of condensation and evaporation.
Unlike that of the Earth, where only water condenses and evaporates through, the cycle on Pluto involves no less than three materials.
"These cycles are a lot richer than those on Earth, where there's really only one material that condenses and evaporates — water," Grundy said. "On Pluto, there are at least three materials, and while they interact in ways we don't yet fully understand, we definitely see their effects all across Pluto's surface."
Ages of interactions have led to the formation of a variety of landscapes such as patterned planes, towering mountains, rugged craters and even ice volcanoes on Pluto with the geological diversity exceeding the expectations of scientists conducting studies of the dwarf planet.
"The most amazing thing is how geologically diverse it is," said Geology Geophysics Imaging Team for New Horizons head Jeff Moore. "I think the big takeaway is that Pluto has really exceeded our expectations in every possible way."