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Puzzling patterns on Pluto stump NASA

The latest image of Pluto is taken from the centre of Pluto’s heart feature, which NASA scientists are calling Sputnik Planum, show the plains’ cellular pattern (at left) and clusters of small pits and troughs (from lower left to upper right).

Scientists don’t know for sure, but believe that this area is composed of volatile ices such as solid nitrogen and  that the pits and troughs could be formed by the formed by sublimation or evaporation of these ices.

The pits are hundreds of metres across and tens of metres deep and scientists do not know why they are aligned or shaped the way they are.

“Pluto is weird, in a good way,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“The pits, and the way they’re aligned, provide clues about the ice flow and the exchange of volatiles between the surface and atmosphere, and the science team is working hard to understand what physical processes are at play here.”

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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