A new study funded by NASA suggests that Pluto is the results of a billion ancient comets smashing into one another. The origin of the beloved dwarf planet has puzzled scientists for decades.
An older theory claims that Pluto was once Neptune’s ancient moon that had been ousted from orbit by the giant planet’s largest moon, Triton. More recent studies have shown that the hypothesis doesn’t hold water because Pluto never gets close enough to Neptune in its orbital journey.
After the distant Kuiper Belt was discovered in 1992, new theories emerged. The dwarf planet is the largest known space body in the Kuiper Belt. But Pluto’s composition and orbit prompted scientists to speculate that it is related to the icy objects in the vicinity of the Belt.
Researchers believe that some Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) get expelled from the belt and become wandering comets within the solar system. The new theory suggests that Pluto formed after a billion of these outcasted KBOs smashed into one another.
Pluto’s Formation Gets New Theory
In their study, scientists sifted through the data on Pluto that was beamed back home by NASA’s New Horizons probe. The probe found that the nitrogen levels in the left lobe of “Pluto’s heart” matched the nitrogen levels in the computer models suggesting the comet-origin theory.
We’ve developed what we call ‘the giant comet’ cosmochemical model of Pluto formation,
lead author Dr. Christopher R. Glein said.
Dr. Glein believes that a billion comets and other KBOs formed Pluto. The latest theory is at odds with the so-called “solar model.” That model suggested that Pluto formed from the protoplanetary disk and should have a composition that is very close to the Sun’s.
Image Source: JPL.NASA