New discoveries suggest that Pluto might not be a comet as the International Astronomical Union thought in 2006. Thanks to NASA’s New Horizons mission, researchers have found that Pluto is neither a comet nor a planet.
Pluto is now being considered a hybrid between the characteristics of a planet and a comet, according to a recent discovery made by NASA’s New Horizons mission and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
While studying the solar winds that surround the planet, scientist discovered a never-before-seen scenario on the little planet.
A hybrid planet
Solar winds are basically the plasma that is ejected from the sun into the solar system at 100 million miles per hour or 160 million km per hour. The plasma bathes planets, asteroids, comets and the interplanetary space into a mixture of protons and electrons.
In all of its behavior, Pluto acts like a comet except for its solar wind interaction. Ita actually behaves like Mars or Venus when it comes to protons and electrons.
The New Horizon’s mission made by NASA discovered in a flyby, on 2015, a never-before-seen interaction with the solar wind and the planet. The material that came out of Pluto’s atmosphere became a surprise for researchers.
“This is a type of interaction we’ve never seen before anywhere in our solar system. The results are astonishing,” said David J. McComas the lead author of the study and vice president for the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.
When it comes to comets, the solar wind interaction is more of a single and slower interaction. Planets, on the other hand, have an abrupt diversion with solar winds.
Previous investigations considered Pluto’s gravity as weak, since its 3.7 billion miles away from the sun and is the smallest in our solar system. Yet, Pluto’s gravity seems to be clear enough to keep material confined.
Investigators found heavy ions of methane on all of its atmosphere, something that only occurs in a planet.
This discovery leads scientists to re-think their beliefs on the small hybrid and sets the path for new and more interesting investigations.