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At its heart, Pluto may be a gigantic comet.
Researchers have come up with a new theory about the dwarf planet's origins after taking a close look at Sputnik Planitia, the vast nitrogen-ice glacier that constitutes the left lobe of Pluto's famous "heart" feature.
Glein - SwRI - Colleague - Hunter - Waite
Glein and his SwRI colleague Hunter Waite devised the new Pluto-formation scenario after analyzing data from Rosetta and NASA's New Horizons mission, which flew by Pluto in July 2015.
The scientists also made some inferences about the dwarf planet's evolution in their new study, which was published online Wednesday (May 23) in the journal Icarus.
Research - Pluto - Chemical - Makeup - Building
"Our research suggests that Pluto's initial chemical makeup, inherited from cometary building blocks, was chemically modified by liquid water, perhaps even in a subsurface ocean," Glein said.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, photographed by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft.
Glein - Waite - Pluto - Origin - Model
Glein and Waite aren't claiming to have nailed down Pluto's origin definitively; a "solar model," in which the dwarf planet coalesced from cold ices with a chemical composition closer to that of the sun, also remains in play,...
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