The Planetary Society:
Will We Find Signs of Techtonics on Pluto? And What Would That Mean?
by Amy Barr and Geoffrey Collins
It’s very cold in the outer solar system. Yet, studying the agglomerations of ice and rock far from the Sun is a smokin’ hot area of research. The newest kid on the block—2012 VP113, aka “Biden”—earned a lot of press because it, along with Sedna, another cosmic oddball, may have a story to tell about the very early history of our Solar System. But scientists haven’t forgotten Pluto, the O.D.P. (Original Dwarf Planet, hah).
In preparation for the New Horizons spacecraft‘s flyby of Pluto in mid-2015, people want to clarify the implications of possible observations. Of course, speculating now means discussing ideas that will ultimately prove incorrect. The alternative, however, is waiting until after the mission’s completion to think about the scientific details. Pluto will have everyone’s attention during the flyby, but this interest, alack, will probably dissipate (unless New Horizons gets, like, eaten). Scientists should maximize their window of opportunity—prepared to present a scientifically correct story for Pluto’s evolution alongside all the “gee whiz” photos from the flyby.
This paper, for instance, explains the scientific implications of pretty pictures of Pluto that show preserved features from ancient tectonic activity, like troughs, ridges, or bands. The authors conclude that such evidence would indicate that Pluto once hosted a global, subsurface ocean…
image: Gemini Observatory / AURA