A new study has been looking into the dwarf planet known as Pluto. The dwarf planet was photographed back in 2015, and the photos showed that Pluto wasn’t as barren as scientists believed. A heart-shaped structure called Tombaugh Regio was seen in photos and captured a lot of attention for Pluto.
New research has shown that the heart, which is made of nitrogen, rules the atmospheric circulation of the dwarf planet. Most of the thin atmosphere of Pluto is made of nitrogen, which is also found on Earth, along with small amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Frozen nitrogen covers part of the surface of Pluto, creating the shape of the heart.
The team says that during the day on Pluto, the thin layer of nitrogen ice warms up and turns into vapor. At night the vapor condenses and forms ice. Scientists say that each sequence is like a heartbeat that pumps nitrogen winds around the dwarf planet. The team notes that the cycle pushes the atmosphere to circulate in the opposite direction of its spin.
That is a unique phenomenon that the team calls retro-rotation. As the air circulates close to the surface, it transports heat, grains of ice, and haze particles to create the dark wind streaks and plains across the north and northwestern regions of Pluto.
The team says that the study highlights that even when the density of the atmosphere is very low, winds can impact the surface. Most of the nitrogen ice is confined to Tombaugh Regio. The left side is a 620-mile ice sheet in a 1.9-mile deep basin called Sputnik Planitia. That area holds most of the nitrogen ice because of the low elevation. The right lobe is made of highlands and nitrogen-rich glaciers that extend into the basin.