Pluto may not be categorised as a planet any more, but it still holds plenty of fascination. Well, a few scientists consider they've discovered the truth.
"We found an intriguing consistency between the estimated amount of nitrogen inside the glacier and the amount that would be expected if Pluto was formed by the agglomeration of roughly a billion comets or other Kuiper Belt objects similar in chemical composition to 67P, the comet explored by Rosetta", Chris Glein, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, said in a statement. The new theory is detailed in paper available on the arXiv server and is due to be published in the journal Icarus.
Focusing largely on an area of Pluto known as Sputnik Planitia, the scientists explain that the chemical composition of the region - packed with nitrogen - seems to match up shockingly well with that of a well-studied comet.
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The researchers also looked into another possible model in which Pluto formed from very cold ices.
The authors of the brand-new research study have not shown that Pluto formed from a billion comets, however they have actually begun an interesting discussion- one that's tough our conceptions of how big and remote heavenly bodies originated. For instance, researchers have long questioned whether comets were the source of the Earth's water or whether they was essential for the shipment of the active ingredients for life.
Previously, scientists thought that maybe the nitrogen came from comets that landed on Pluto - but that model would not account for the sheer amount of it.
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Scientists needed to understand not only the nitrogen present at Pluto now - in its atmosphere and in glaciers - but also how much of the volatile element potentially could have leaked out of the atmosphere and into space over the eons.
In the new "giant comet" cosmochemical model, Pluto's initial chemical makeup is inherited from comet building blocks but was later changed by liquid water. Methane is shown in purple, nitrogen in yellow, carbon monoxide in green, and water ice in blue. Then in 2015 NASA's New Horizons spacecraft paid the icy dwarf a visit, giving us a better glimpse of its surface than ever before.
"Using chemistry as a detective's tool, we are able to trace certain features we see on Pluto today to formation processes from long ago". This shut encounter, which is able to happen on January 1, 2019, about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) past Pluto's orbit, is the centerpiece of New Horizons' prolonged mission.
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"While Rosetta yielded unbelievable information about 67P, we still do not know if 67P is really representative of the Planetary system's large stock of comets", he stated.