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Pluto may have been downgraded to a dwarf planet, but its mysteries still loom large. When NASA's New Horizons reconnaissance probe flew past Pluto and its moon Charon in 2015, the resulting footage revealed a novel world of icy peaks, glacial planes and frozen volcanoes not seen anywhere else in the solar system.
Now, researchers are looking at that footage again for clues about one of the solar system's most enigmatic regions: the vast ring of icy debris known as the Kuiper Belt.
Planet - Frontiers - System - Astronomers - Details
There could be a planet hiding out on the distant frontiers of our solar system. Astronomers have published new details about what it probably looks like.
By studying impact craters, the researchers discovered that Pluto and Charon had been battered by far more large objects than small ones over the last 4 billion years. This suggests that the Kuiper Belt is primarily populated by big, ancient objects that date to close to the formation of the solar system.
Craters - Window - Past - Lead - Study
"Craters give you a window into the past," lead study author Kelsi Singer, a senior research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and member of the New Horizons team, told Live Science. "We can use the number of craters to say how old a surface is, which helps us learn more about the Kuiper Belt as a whole."
Generally, parts of a planet's surface speckled with lots of craters are thought to be relatively old, whereas regions without any craters are considered to be new developments, Singer said. On Pluto, for example, there is a bright sheet of nitrogen ice known as The Heart, named for its shape. Because there are no impact craters on this region, it is believed to be relatively young compared to the rest of Pluto's surface.
Contrast - Evidence - Regions - Pluto
In contrast, past evidence suggested that some crater-rich regions of Pluto are about 4...
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