Underground winds and ocean – more finds from Pluto

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Scientists around the world continue to analyze the data transmitted by the New Horizons spacecraft when it passed Pluto and its moon as a coffin in 2015

Spirits on Pluto

An area near sunset on the dwarf planet Pluto. Photo: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

One of the most prominent formations on Pluto’s surface is the Tombaugh Regio Heart Formation named after the astronomer who discovered this planet. It is actually a huge glacier made entirely of nitrogen ice. It turned out that this glacier affects the circulations of the atmosphere. Measurements by the New Horizons spacecraft showed that during the day, a thin layer of ice in this area warms and evaporates. At night, these vapors condense and nitrogen ice is formed again. This is actually a cyclical operation. Each such cycle is similar to a heartbeat flowing nitrogen winds around Pluto. This cyclic motion pushes the atmosphere to make an inverted motion in the opposite direction to Pluto’s motion around itself. When the air hits the ground it transfers heat, ice grains and haze particles that form broad wind blows along northern and northwestern regions.

Most of Pluto’s nitrogen ice is concentrated in the heart configuration. The left lobe of the lobe is more than 1000 km long and is located in a basin 3 km deep called Sputnik Planitia. In the right lobe of the configuration are the levels of nitrogen glaciers.
Using a computer model to test the circulation of air and its effect on the surface. It turned out that winds that are 4 km above the ground blow in a westerly direction (reverse the movement of Pluto around itself). When the nitrogen in the heart formation evaporates in its northern part and becomes ice in the south. Its motion causes winds to blow in a westerly direction. This phenomenon has not been observed anywhere else in the solar system. Perhaps in Triton the moon of Neptune.This model also found a strong flow of air near the ground along the western border of Sputnik Planitia.The airflow is similar to air movement patterns on Earth as in Kuroshio along the eastern side of Asia.Nitrogen thickening in the atmosphere, preventing this wind pattern The large rocks in this area capture the cold air inside the basin. It begins to move in circulation and becomes stronger as it passes through the western region. The importance of the Sputnik Planitia region is probably like the influence of the ocean on the Earth’s climate (1).

An underground ocean

The subterranean ocean is estimated to exist in Pluto. It is trapped between a layer of ice and a rocky rock. Illustration: Pam Engebretson / Physics Org
The subterranean ocean is estimated to exist in Pluto. It is trapped between a layer of ice and a rocky rock. Illustration: Pam Engebretson / Physics Org

After the New Horizons’ photographs reached Earth, they were compared with different models that tried to give different predictions about thermal developments regarding Pluto’s interior. Water as it is known occupies a larger volume when it freezes and turns into ice and they occupy a smaller volume when they thaw and become a liquid. In terms of Pluto’s evolution each of these states has different meanings in terms of tectonics, the properties of Pluto’s surface and interior.

If Pluto had started as a cold planet and the ice inside it had thawed, the planet would have shrunk and compression properties could be discerned on the surface. If it had started as a hot body it would have expanded, when the ocean of water froze one could notice the characteristics of expansion on the surface. What is seen in the photographs is a lot of evidence for expansions on the surface, but there is no evidence for compression on the surface. The evidence therefore supports the hypothesis that Pluto began with a liquid ocean.

The tectonic and thermal developments regarding the beginning of Pluto as a planet are a little more complicated. This is because after a planet has gradually melted, the underground ocean has undergone another freeze. Therefore the contraction will start earlier followed by expansion. With a fresh start the expansion has taken place throughout the history of Pluto.

Calculations have shown that if all gravitational energy were inevitably conserved as heat it would inevitably form a primary liquid ocean (2).

Another spaceship to Pluto?

The findings from the New Horizons spacecraft and the surprising conclusions have piqued the researchers’ appetite and are beginning to talk about designing another spacecraft to be launched into Pluto. This time it is not a transit flight, but a spacecraft that will enter orbit around it and perform a full review of it. The duration of the mission will be two national years. At the end of the mission, the spacecraft will be directed to another tiny body in the Copier strip and to another planet located in this space of the solar system. The intention is for the spacecraft to take advantage of the gravitational pull of its lunar crust and from there to the other planet (3).

It would even be worthwhile to equip the spacecraft with an SUV that will land on Pluto. As for the charon the desired trajectory for examining the two bodies is the use of a loop flight path where the spacecraft enters orbit around Pluto and at the point selected for this purpose moves towards Charon, makes a half turn and goes back around Pluto, circumnavigates it and returns to Charon again. This is a flight technique that the Russians made initial use of in Luna 3 that was launched to the moon.

Sources
1. “Pluto’s icy heart makes winds blow” 5.2.2020

2. “Evidence supports ‘hot start’ scenario and early ocean formation on Pluto” 23.6.2020

3. Mike Wall – “NASA eyes possible return to Pluto, with a longer stay” 1.11.2019

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