When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took off in space in 2015, it took some amazing pictures. It also included stunning photos of ‘Sputnik Planitia’, one of Pluto’s largest craters. An unusual pattern of strange figures carved on the surface can be seen in the photographs. The “polygonal or cellular” shapes are thought to be the result of heat exchange in the nitrogen ice layer covering the dwarf planet, according to NASA.
The US Space Agency said that the surface of Sputnik Planitia appears dark towards the edge. Which possibly indicates a change in the structure or texture of the surface. The dark bulges on the sides of the cell are probably ‘icebergs’ of dirty water floating in the denser solid nitrogen. A team of international researchers, including experts from the University of Exeter, has described how these unusual structures took their shape. Sputnik Planitia is a giant crater located in the northern hemisphere of the planet, with a plain as large as a small country.
The crater is filled with nitrogen ice, which covers more than 90 percent of the planet’s surface. It also contains traces of other gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Using state-of-the-art modeling techniques, the scientists found that ice can form rough polygonal shapes through the process of sublimation. When ice sublimates, it changes from a solid state to a gas without passing through a liquid state.
Dr Adrian Morrison, a research fellow in Exeter’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said a 2015 NASA mission demonstrated that Pluto, despite being very far from the Sun and having a limited internal energy source, is still geologically active. This includes Sputnik Planitia, where surface conditions allow gaseous nitrogen to react with solid nitrogen in its atmosphere.