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A new study suggests that Pluto may be a giant comet—an object in space that consists of ice—rather than a “dwarf planet.”
Scientists from the Southwest Research Institute explored this possibility by comparing existing data. These data include information from NASA’s New Horizons, the first spacecraft to travel to Pluto, and from the 2004 Rosetta mission that traveled to a comet called 67P.
The scientists discovered that the amount of nitrogen in Pluto is consistent with the estimated nitrogen levels of billions of comets that could have formed Pluto.
Thus, the scientists developed the theory “cosmochemical model of Pluto formation.” This theory suggests that Pluto accumulated nitrogen when the surrounding comets coalesced. Nitrogen—one of the earliest chemicals in the solar system—was also found in comet 67P.
However, Pluto’s low carbon monoxide levels conflict with the theory. This is because comets usually have high carbon monoxide levels. Despite this contradiction, the researchers suggested that water may have either destroyed carbon monoxide or trapped it in ice. They also hypothesized that there may be an ocean buried under Pluto’s icy surface.
Despite this new theory, Pluto’s status remains under debate. Arguments on its status as a planet began in 1992 when scientists discovered many celestial bodies of similar size in Pluto’s area. In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a “dwarf planet,” which describes a celestial body that resembles a planet but does not possess its technical characteristics.
With more data on Pluto, scientists hope to answer more questions about it.