SCIENCE

Did Pluto Once Harbor Liquid Nitrogen On Its Surface?

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Mar, 30, 2016, 04:42 AM
Pluto
(Photo : Getty Images/NASA) A series of new images taken by a NASA spacecraft suggests that Pluto may be harboring a frozen lake comprised of liquid nitrogen.

A series of new images taken by a NASA spacecraft suggests that Pluto may be harboring a frozen lake comprised of liquid nitrogen.

A new high-resolution image captured by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft shows a small body of water measuring 20 miles across Pluto's Sputnik Planum - a heart shaped plain, writes Tech Times.

According to NASA, the nitrogen lake may have existed millions or billions of years ago when conditions on Pluto were vastly different to today's conditions. The planet's thicker atmosphere would have led to higher surface air pressure and temperature, producing conditions in which "liquids might have flowed across and pooled on the surface of the distant world," according to the space agency.

New Horizons was sent to Pluto to collect as much data about the dwarf planet, which sits 4.6 billion miles away from Earth, as part of NASA's Frontier Program.

While the images show a frozen lake on the surface of the dwarf, there are also signs of "channels that may also have carried liquids in Pluto's past," Alan Stern, main investigator of New Horizons, said in a press release.

However, the presence of nitrogen in liquid form seems to be something of the past - due to the environmental and physical evolution of Pluto. The dwarf planet, which only circles the sun once every 248 years, is "now in an intermediate phase between its climate extremes, with the last peak occurring less than 1 million years ago," reports Discovery.com.

At present, temperatures on the planet can reach almost 400 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will continue to send data back to Earth from Pluto as it continues on with its mission. The probe is set to arrive at its next destination within the galaxy - the Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 - in 2019.

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