New Horizons gathered many amazing images, including an astonishing close-up shot of Sputnik Planitia. Image credit: NASA/SwRI/APL
Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas, United States, have developed a new theory about how Pluto may have formed in the outer region of the Solar System. This new theory is an amalgamation of NASA’s New Horizons discoveries about the distant dwarf planet and data collected from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission.
The team of scientists looked the nitrogen-rich ice in Sputnik Plantia, which is a large glacier that forms the left lobe of the bright Tombaugh Regio feature on Pluto’s cold surface. “We’ve developed what we call ‘the giant comet’ cosmochemical model of Pluto formation,” says Dr Christopher Glein of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “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 [Comet] 67P, the comet explored by Rosetta.”
In addition to the cometary-formation model, the scientists also explored a ‘solar model’. This model suggests that Pluto formed from ...