Scientists Suggest Unique Theory for Formation of Pluto
The accepted theory is that planets are formed as grains of dust collide within the disk of material that circles young stars.
Pluto, however, could be breaking the mould, formed not from dust, but from comets—a billion or so—according to research published May 23.
“We’ve developed what we call ‘the giant comet’ cosmochemical model of Pluto formation,” said Dr Christopher Glein of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division, in a statement.
The new theory comes from researching nitrogon-rich ice in a large glacier that forms the left lobe in Pluto’s iconic love heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio feature.
The levels of nitrogen in the glacier are consistent with what would be expected if Pluto was formed by the agglomeration of roughly a billion comets according to the researhers at SouthWest Research Institute.
“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.
The researchers say many questions remain unanswered.
Planets are usually thought to form in the disk of material around a young solar system.
“Scientists think planets, including the ones in our solar system, likely start off as grains of dust smaller than the width of a human hair,” according to NASA.
The space agency says that the planets emerge from “the giant, donut-shaped disk of gas and dust that circles young stars.”
It says that gravity and other forces cause material within the disk to collide.
“If the collision is gentle enough, the material fuses, growing like rolling snowballs. Over time, dust particles combine to form pebbles, which evolve into mile-sized rocks. As these planetesimals orbit their star, they clear material from their path, leaving tracks of space empty but for fine dust,” according to NASA.