Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pluto, Our Solar System’s Other “Warm” Planet

Pluto continues to surprise us.  Now, NASA researchers and other planetary scientists are considering that there may be cryovolcanos on Pluto.  Those are volcanoes that erupt icy substances, rather than hot magma, as volcanoes do on Earth.

In both cases, though, that implies that there is some ongoing source of heat inside the planet.  For the Earth, that is thought to be the result of radioactive materials within the Earth and/or the residual heat from the formation of the planet.

This wasn’t expected to be the case for Pluto; as a small planet, it was thought that the heat of formation would have been radiated into space by now.  Think of how a small piece of ice melts much faster than a big piece of ice, or how a small heated rock cools off faster than a large one.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Pluto.

Also, Pluto is not being squeezed by gravitational tides, the way that Jupiter’s inner moons are, which is thought to be the heat source allowing liquid oceans to exist beneath their icy surfaces.  There is no big nearby planet to turn that trick, and its interaction with the moon Charon is not thought able to produce that result either.

The fact that Pluto has a heat engine inside does raise the possibility of liquid water, even oceans,  under the surface, though.  Who knows, life may even have evolved in that environment, assuming there are oceans under the ice.

So, what is driving Pluto’s heat engine?  Nobody knows.  But maybe that old Doctor Who episode “The Sun Makers” was on to something (that episode was set on a future warm Pluto).  :)


Note: This NASA site has a lot of cool stuff.  This page has a cute animation of the Pluto system, how they all interact and spin (revolution and rotation).  Fun to watch.
And here’s the “call to action” that all good social media is supposed to contain (especially content rich blogs by Indie publishers :).  If you like stories about plucky people stranded on strange worlds, who have to survive on their wits and courage (and maybe their good looks), you should try the novel “Kati of Terra Book One: Escape from the Drowned Planet”, by Helena Puumala, published by Dodecahedron Books.

Amazon U.S. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00811WVXO
Amazon U.K. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00811WVXO 
Amazon Canada: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00811WVXO
Amazon Australia: http://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/B00811WVXO  
Amazon Germany: http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00811WVXO
Amazon Japan:  http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B00811WVXO

 And if you like Science Fiction with a reasonable grounding in actual science, you should try the short story “The Magnetic Anomaly”.  It features such scientific phenomena such as Induced Polarization geophysical exploration, and Fast Fourier Transforms (no equations though) - plus aliens.  It was written by your Dodecahedron Books data analyst blog writer, who also has a degree in Physics.

The Magnetic Anomaly, also free on Amazon for Halloween)
Amazon U.S.: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0176H22B4
Amazon U.K. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0176H22B4
Amazon Can: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B0176H22B4
Amazon Australia: http://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/B0176H22B4
Amazon Germany: http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B0176H22B4
Amazon Japan: http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/product/B0176H22B4

And here's a nice XKCD comic about Pluto, showing our peculiar emotional attachment to this strange little planet:

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