Pluto’s famous heart powers icy winds on the dwarf planet
By Mike Wall
The heart is pumping nitrogen-dominated air around Pluto, according to a new study.
Pluto’s icy heart is beating.
The dwarf planet’s famous heart-shaped feature, which NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft discovered during its epic July 2015 flyby, drives atmospheric circulation patterns on Pluto, a new study suggests.
Most of the action comes courtesy of the heart’s left lobe, a 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) nitrogen-ice plain called Sputnik Planitia. This exotic ice vaporizes during the day and condenses into ice again at night, causing nitrogen winds to blow, the researchers determined. (Pluto’s atmosphere is dominated by nitrogen, like Earth’s, though the dwarf planet’s air is about 100,000 times thinner than the stuff we breathe.)