Pluto May Have Deep Seas and Ancient Tectonic Faults. Page 2

NASA's New Horizon's probe will flyby Pluto next year, getting a closeup look at the dwarf planet's surface.

Tectonic Features

But will New Horizons see those faults? Probably, says Jeffrey Moore, the head of New Horizon's geology and geophysics imaging team at the NASA Ames Research Center.

“It would probably be surprising if we didn't see tectonism,” said Moore.

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One potential complication is Pluto weather. Telescopes discovered years ago that Pluto has an atmosphere when it is at its closest approach to the sun, and then that atmosphere freezes to the surface when Pluto is on the more distant part of its elliptical orbit. That regular change could be enough to erode the surface of Pluto to the point where it might hide the tectonic features.

“It's not inconceivable that the tectonics are eroded and covered up by sediments,” said Moore. But he doubts that will be the case, pointing to examples of worlds with atmospheres that freeze to the surface seasonally -- like Jupiter's moon Callisto.

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“Callisto has sublimation and deposit of its atmosphere but you can still see the large features.” said Moore.

Also, New Horizons will be looking at Pluto with a resolution that will be better than 100 meters per pixel in some places, Moore said. So the chances are pretty good. And if no tectonic faults are seen?

“We'll just have to go back and revisit this when we get there,” said Moore.

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