Data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby had come out and experts revealed that it is a complex and mysterious world out there. Packed in a small world is a thin but complicated atmosphere with diverse surface characteristics including impact craters, glaciers and other features suggesting vast resurfacing.
Pluto was first discovered in 1930 and has since been believed to be peculiar - an oddball in the solar system. In 1992, when the Kuiper belt, which is a region beyond the orbit of Neptune, was discovered, a new look at Pluto emerged. Pluto was then regarded as the largest of a new category of small planets developed in the outer solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the New Horizons spacecraft to embark on the agency's first explorative mission to Pluto. The said mission, which was able to come close to approximately 13,691 kilometers from the center of Pluto, was rounded off on July 14, 2015. The spacecraft was able to capture a number of remote sensing and in situ dimensions of Pluto and its five-moon system.
The spacecraft carried with it sophisticated scientific devices such as multicolor mapper, infrared spectrometer, ultraviolet mapping spectrograph and a dust impact detector, among many others. By combining these instruments, the spacecraft was able to obtain over 50 gigabits of data from Pluto upon its closest approach to the center.
In a scientific paper, experts said that they discovered Pluto's surface to have diverse landforms, terrains, color and varied components. Among the other discoveries are geologically immature surface, tectonic extension, potential wind flecks and a crust filled with water ice.
"As such, the young surface units on Pluto present a puzzle regarding the energy source(s) that power such resurfacing over time scales of billions of years," said Alan Stern, the principal investigator of New Horizons.
The atmosphere of Pluto is greatly stretched, with a haze layer, trace hydrocarbons and a 10 microbar-pressure.
The difference between the bulk densities of Pluto and its large moon, Charon is approximately 10 percent, which follows the rock features of the two similar celestial bodies. An implication drawn from this discovery is that both were either slightly differentiated or undifferentiated before their bump - a factor significant to the accumulative process of the ancient Kuiper Belt.
"Pluto is a really interesting and geologically complex world," said Cathy Olkin, deputy project scientist at the New Horizons mission.
In the end, the experts said that Pluto had a vast variation of geological characteristics, including those that developed from glaciological and surface-atmosphere interactions, impact and tectonic processes.
The data suggest that other small planets on the Kuiper Belt may have rich complex histories too. Another point of question posted by the authors is how Pluto stayed active billion years after its development, given the varied geology and prolonged activity.
The report was published in the journal Science on Friday, Oct. 16.