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Pluto may have formed from 1 billion comets



  Pluto may have formed from 1 billion comets

This view of Pluto's Sputnik Planitia Nitrogen Ice Plane was captured by the NASA New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2002 flyby on the dwarf planet.

Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI

In his heart, Pluto could be a giant comet.

Researchers have developed a new theory about the origins of the dwarf planet, after scrutinizing Sputnik Planitia, the giant nitrogen-glacier that represents the planet, on the left lobe of Pluto's famous "heart" feature.

"We found a striking coincidence between the estimated amount of nitrogen within the glacier and the amount that would be expected if Pluto were formed by the agglomeration of about one billion comets or other Kuiper belt objects similar in chemical composition to 67P , the comet researched by Rosetta, "said Chris Glein, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio, in a statement. [Photos of Pluto and Its Moons]

The Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency circled the comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko from 201

4 to 2016. The mother ship in orbit also dropped a lander named Philae onto the icy body and set the first soft touchdown on the surface of a comet. (The Kuiper Belt is the ring of frigid objects beyond Neptune's orbit; Pluto is the largest inhabitant of the belt.)

Glin and his SwRI colleague Hunter Waite developed the new Pluto Formation scenario after seeing data from Rosetta and NASA's New Horizons mission. In their new study, published online Wednesday, May 23, in the journal Icarus, scientists drew some conclusions about the evolution of the dwarf planet. The first chemical composition inherited from cometary building blocks was chemically modified by liquid water. maybe even in an underground ocean, "said Glein.

  Comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, photographed by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft.

Comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, photographed by the Rosetta space probe of the European Space Agency.

Credit: ESA / Rosetta / NAVCAM [19659014] Glein and Waite do not claim to have definitively established Pluto's origins, a "solar model" in which the dwarf planet of cold ice with a chemical composition similar to that of the sun grows together also in the game, the duo said.

"This research builds on the fantastic He Follow on from the New Horizons and Rosetta missions to broaden our understanding of the origins and evolution of Pluto, "said Glein.

"Using chemistry as the tool of a detective, we can trace certain traits that we see today on Pluto to formation processes," he added. "This leads to a new appreciation of the wealth of Pluto's" life story, "which we are only now beginning to grasp."

Rosetta's mission ended in September 2016 when the probe's handlers directed a targeted crash landing on 67P surface. However, the work of New Horizons is far from over. The NASA spacecraft is heading for a flyby of a small Kuiper Belt object officially known as the 2014 MU69 (and unofficially as Ultima Thule). This close encounter, which will take place around 1.6 billion kilometers outside of Pluto's orbits on January 1, 2019, is at the heart of New Horizons' expanded mission.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter [19659019] @michaeldwall and Google+ . Follow us @ Spacedotcom Facebook or Google+ . Originally published on Space.com .


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