Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Glaciation of Sputnik Planum

NASA and the New Horizons team have just issued a press release and a new image from the New Horizons mission to Pluto. The release doesn't offer much in the way of further insight but provides a wonderful view of the eastern portion of Sputnik Planum, as captured by the LORRI instrument.

Other press releases and blog entries have already been published discussing the nature and possibility for water ice to float on much denser nitrogen ice. However, this new image offers better evidence into how that process may be continuing today on Pluto. Flows of liquid can be seen streaming into the Sputnik Planum region, likely fracturing and uplifting the watery crust much like the glaciation process occurs here on Earth.This has lead to the numerous floating blocks of material littering the coasts around the region.

Growing up, I understood the solar system to be a mostly dead, inactive place, save for the swirling gasses of Venus and the giants, the small moons Io, Triton and possibly Titan, and of course Earth. There is something so spectacularly special here with Pluto to see potentially ongoing daily geologic activity. Who knows if our planet is alone in harboring life in our Solar System, but it can be said with certainty, that our planet is not alone in being alive and active, and I find that extremely satisfying.

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