Pluto, Triton, the KBOs and the New Horizonsmission
The New Horizons mission (NASA), designed and managed by Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, CO) and Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory (Laurel, Maryland) was launched by Lockheed Martin's Atlas V 551 le 19 janvier 2006 for a flyby of Pluto (on July 14, 2015) and other Kuiper Belt Objects.
The instruments onboard New Horizons have been mainly designed to study the surface and atmospheres of Pluto, its moons Charon, Nix, and Hydra, and the other KBOs. See the seminar on New Horizons and the KBOs given at ESA in Noordwijk in June 2006 as a collaborator of the New Horizons Scence Team.
In August 2006, in spite of campaigning aiming at keeping Pluto a planet, vigorously supported by Alan Stern, Principal Investigatot of the New Horizons mission, resolutions B5 et B6 of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) deprived Pluto of its planetary status, and classified it in a new class of object, the plutoids, from the newly defined dwarf planets category of objects. When the resolution was voted, Alan was with one of her daughters for the start of the new college year; no doubt that should he have inverted his priorities Pluto would still be a planet.
yes but it did not work finally :(
In 2009 a prospective study will start on the tectonics and cryovolcanism of Pluto in relation with Triton, a likely KBO captured by Neptune.
How do we know that there is cryovolcanism on Triton?
Geysers are observed at surface; They are probably due to the gravitational attraction of Neptune. Despite the low resolution of the available images (from Voyager 2, 1989), landforms of apparently volcanic origin are observed (see Kargel, Earth, Moon and Planets 67, 101-113, 1995). Something must be happening at depth.
How do we know that there has been cryovolcanism on Pluto?
First, we don't know. Then, thre must have been some internal dynamics early in the history of Pluto (and Charon?), surface albedo is highly contrasted, so why not cryovolcanism? Let us dream a bit before New Horizons shows us reality.
Both Triton and Pluto have a rocky core and an icy outer
layer. Triton was captured by Neptune, and the Pluto-Charon binary system
originates from a collision between a proto-Pluto and another objects.
Triton, observed by Voyager 2 in 1989, shows an amazing variety of cryovolcanic
landforms not more than several tens of m.y. old. These include volcanic
edifices and associated lava flows, calderas, diapirs, lava lakes, rilles,
pit craters, and probable ice dykes, in addition to active geysers. This
activity probably originates from tidal forces exerted by Neptune, and
gradually increases as Triton gets closer to Neptune with time.
The interior of Triton and Pluto is assumed to be differentiated into a rocky core overlain by a thick H2O ice crust, whose thickness is determined from the total radius and mass of the satellite. A tidal energy dissipation model for Triton and Pluto is calculated using a model earlier developed for Titan. Assuming a typical cometary composition for the ice phase, a few percent of contaminants such as ammonia and/or methanol are considered. The model predicts that the presence of these anti-freezing contaminants permits the persistence of a molten zone at the bottom of the ice layer on Pluto early in its history, and during the history of Triton until the present days. As this liquid zone crystallizes as a function of time, the concentration of contaminants increases, resulting in a progressive decrease of the liquid density. At some point during the evolution, the density becomes lower than the density of the overlying ice. This leads to the rupture of the icy crust above the liquid reservoir and the rise and emplacement of molten ice dykes whose vertical extent is calculated from the fracture toughness of low temperature ice Ih. If the cryomagma supply rate allows, dykes propagate vertically to their level of neutral buoyancy (LNB), whose depth is calculated from the balance between the density of the molten ice and the density profile of the surrounding ice layer. Dyke thickness and lateral extent can be calculated for a range of cryomagma flow rates. Dykes attaining the LNB can lengthen as long as they are fed from the reservoir. LNB depth is calculated as a function of time and tidal dissipation energy decrease. A number of dykes propagating at the LNB are likely to reach the surface and erupt at some point, giving birth to a series of cryovolcanic morphologies examples of which are observed on Triton, providing a constraint on the minimum age of Plutonian landscape modification by cryovolcanic processes.
This ongoing work is carried out with Gabriel Tobie,
also from University of Nantes. A poster
has been presented at the 6th
International Dyke conference on this topic. It discusses cryovolcanic
landforms on Triton, and LNB depth s a function of thermal history of
Pluto and Triton assuming a crust whose composition is inferred from cometary
composition (N2, CO, CO2, CH4, NH3...).