NAU Astronomer Calculates Age Of Pluto's 'Heart'

By Melissa Sevigny
Published: Monday, January 25, 2016 - 8:31am
Updated: Monday, January 25, 2016 - 8:44am
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(Photo by NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
Pluto's heart-shaped region, photographed by the New Horizons spacecraft in July.

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 said 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 said.

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

Trilling said 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.

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