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Science and Innovations

NAU Astronomer Calculates Age of Pluto's 'Heart'


A new study from Northern Arizona University says Pluto’s heart-shaped region is “surprisingly young”—less than 10 million years.

Astronomer David Trilling authored the study. He examined a smooth region on Pluto called Sputnik Planum, photographed by NASA’s New Horizons mission in July.

Trilling says the lack of craters was a surprise. He calculated how often Pluto should receive impacts from outer space, “and we did some math using our knowledge of the outer solar system, and concluded that that region of Pluto—the surface has to be younger than 10 million years old,” he says.

That’s younger than some rocks in the Grand Canyon.

Trilling says scientists don’t yet know what kind of geologic activity erases the craters. Slabs of nitrogen ice might scrape over the surface, or icy volcanoes could erupt from underground.

The study was published in PLOS ONE last week. 

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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