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Cracking the mystery of nitrogen ice dynamics on Pluto
by Staff Writers
Paris, France (SPX) Dec 17, 2021

Part of Sputnik Planitia revealing polygonal shapes created by convection within the ice

Sputnik Planitia, a basin on the surface of Pluto1 filled with nitrogen ice, displays an astonishing pattern of flat polygons separated by narrow troughs. This feature is a sign of thermal convection within the icy mass that constantly renews its surface. Until now the driver of this process was a riddle.

However, in their study published in Nature on 15 December 2021, researchers from the CNRS, ENS de Lyon,2 and the University of Exeter unveil the mystery behind the formation of these structures. Despite the low level of solar radiation, the nitrogen ice here is regularly sublimated, i.e., transformed directly into gas without first becoming a liquid.

This sublimation results in local cooling that causes movements in the ice layer on the scale of 100,000 years, which is comparable to the speed of tectonic plate motion on Earth.

The process bears a stronger resemblance to the movement of our oceans than to the behaviour of ice layers on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. It may also occur on the surface of other planetary bodies like Triton, a moon of Neptune; or Eris and Makemake, among the largest Kuiper Belt Objects.

Research Report: "Sublimation-driven convection in Sputnik Planitia on Pluto"

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Planet decision that booted out Pluto is rooted in folklore, astrology
Orlando FL (SPX) Dec 09, 2021
As the new space race continues, a team of top researchers says one thing needs to be cleared up - what exactly is a planet? In a study appearing recently in the journal Icarus, the researchers hope to set the record straight with a look at how a planet's definition has changed since the time of Galileo to the controversial decision the International Astronomical Union made in 2006 to create a new definition, one that made Pluto no longer a planet. The researchers say the IAU's current defin ... read more

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