How a heavy heart made Pluto flip out

Pluto's flip

Sputnik Planitia, the left lobe of Pluto’s “heart,” is thought to have formed as the result of a giant impact early in the dwarf planet’s history. This graphic shows how the icy world reoriented itself as the impact basin filled with volatile ices. (Credit: James Keane / University of Arizona)

Pluto’s famous heart-shaped feature may well have migrated over the course of millions of years as the dwarf planet spun, and that would add to the evidence for a slushy ocean hidden beneath the ice, two groups of scientists say.

In separate reports published today by the journal Nature, the scientists say a reorientation of the faraway world’s most famous feature would provide the best explanation for phenomena observed during last year’s flyby of NASA’s New Horizons probe – including patterns of cracks in the ice.

Most tellingly, it would explain why the heart-shaped feature, known informally as Tombaugh Regio, lines up almost precisely opposite Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon.

“We asked, ‘What’s the chance of that randomly happening?’ And it’s less than 5 percent that it would be so perfectly opposite,” MIT Professor Richard Binzel, a co-author of one of the reports, said in a news release. “And then the question becomes, what was it that caused the alignment?”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Aerospace and science editor for GeekWire, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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