Pluto’s dark side spills its secrets — including hints of a hidden ocean
Shannon Hall | Nature
Monday, August 3, 2020
Images of the dwarf planet’s far side are revealing possible signs of liquid water, mysterious shards of ice and new theories for the frigid world’s birth, New Horizons co-investigator and EAPS Professor Richard Binzel weighs in.
Now that the dwarf planet has been further mapped, a handful of scientists are trying to tease out details from its past. Binzel is scouring the near-side images of Pluto to better understand its current seasons. By comparing its different regions, he hopes to predict any changes we might expect should we send an orbiter to Pluto in another 50 years. “It’s like trying to do a Pluto forecast,” he says. “I’m not sure whether I’ll get to see that myself, but it’s nice to leave Easter eggs of things to look for the next time we get back to Pluto.”
Binzel is certain that we will eventually launch another probe to the dwarf planet. Indeed, many argue that it’s almost inevitable given the numbers of questions that New Horizons left in its wake. To that end, NASA recently awarded scientists the opportunity to study the feasibility of an orbiter, which would allow them to map all of Pluto in detail and even to watch it change over time. This study is a long way from being an actual mission, warns Carly Howett, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, who is leading the effort. It probably wouldn’t launch until the 2030s, or even 2040s, if NASA decides to pursue the mission. Then, it would be a 15-year cruise to the dwarf planet.
A mosaic of images shows the parts of Pluto captured in high resolution, called the near side, and the lower resolution ‘far side’. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.
Story Image: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured different faces of Pluto as it flew past the dwarf planet in 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI