Mysteries of the solar system’s misfit planet may finally be solved this month as NASA’s New Horizons space probe approaches Pluto to shed light on the ex-planet we’ve left well within the darkness.
On July 14th 2015 Pluto’s eerie appearance will come into view and it is sure to astound us all.
Hurtling at over 9000 kilometres per hour, the New Horizons probe is near the end of its epic journey to view Pluto and it’s moon system like never before. The probe will soon finish its near decade long trip and finally fall within the orbit of this strange body to help us understand far flung dwarf planets and their neighbours.
What do we know?
At over 4.6 billion kilometres away and smaller than our moon, it is no wonder so little is known about this ex-planet that was eradicated from the big boys league in 2006.
What we do know is that it is extremely cold this far from the sun. Temperatures on Pluto can plummet to lower than -400 degrees Fahrenheit that’s -240 degrees Celsius.
This dwarf planet is thought to have up to 5 orbiting satellites close by but scientists believe this number could be significantly higher due to Pluto hanging over the edge of the extremely vast Kuiper Belt.
Currently we know Pluto’s atmosphere is comprised of the solar system’s usual elemental suspects, Nitrogen, Methane and Carbon Monoxide.
From previous distant observations we see Pluto as a dark yellow, almost sand coloured world, with white highlights across its surface which raises a number of questions regarding its exact composition.
Much like many of our other celestial friends Pluto is likely to be covered with craters caused by large scale impacts since its creation. Early observations have suggested that this world should be somewhat more scarred by heavy bombardments however, there is already a solution to this theory.
Large rifts on the surface of Pluto suggest dynamic geological processes including geysers, that could possibly be spewing liquid methane into the atmosphere, which could point to a warm planetary core.
What we don’t know
Possibly the most exciting thing about Pluto that scientists across the globe are speculating is, what will it look like? Many people have drastically different ideas about how the landscape of Pluto will look. Now, finally, with the help of New Horizons we can start to see the real face of this aptly named plutoid.
Clues to Pluto’s landscape may be shaped by possible past impacts and events. Pluto’s closets moon Charon is likely to have been created when the dwarf planet and another massive body collided in an almost cataclysmic event. Much like our own moons formation, this huge impact would have thrown out dust and debris away from these objects only to be captured by the gravity of the mostly still intact Pluto.
This event may have paved the way for an equatorial mountain range being formed much like we see in moons and planets throughout our local neighbourhood. Perhaps Pluto may harbour lakes of liquid neon or even giant ice fractures on its surface much like Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Pluto’s Polar Regions may end up looking very similar to our own in aesthetics and could even consist of mountain high ice caps during seasonal frosts.
The possibilities are endless
As the New Horizons probe edges closer and closer to this distant world we will begin to see her a little clearer with every mile.
Working with one of NASAs most advanced telescopes and image capture systems it is highly likely New Horizons will be treating us to some spectacular views of the far reaches of our celestial neighbourhood.
We may finally now gain insight into one of the solar systems most bizarre bodies as well as improve our knowledge of all dwarf planets and the other thousands of Kuiper Belt objects.