Status Report

Formation, Composition, and History of the Pluto System: A Post-New-Horizons Synthesis

By SpaceRef Editor
December 2, 2020
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William B. McKinnon, Christopher R. Glein, Tanguy Bertrand, Alyssa R. Rhoden

The Pluto-Charon system provides a broad variety of constraints on planetary formation, composition, chemistry, and evolution. Pluto was the first body to be discovered in what is now known as the Kuiper belt, its orbit ultimately becoming a major clue that the giant planets underwent substantial orbital migration early in Solar System history. This migration has been linked to an early instability in the orbits of the giant planets and the formation of the Kuiper belt itself, from an ancestral trans-Neptunian planetesimal disk that included Pluto. Pluto-Charon is emblematic of what are now recognized as small or dwarf planets. Far from being a cold, dead, battered icy relic, Pluto displays evidence of a complex geological history, with ongoing processes including tectonism, cryovolcanism, solid-state convection, glacial flow, atmospheric circulation, surface-atmosphere volatile exchange, aeolian processes, and atmospheric photochemistry, microphysics, and haze formation. Despite Pluto’s relatively modest scale, the combination of original accretional heat, long-term internal radiogenic heat release, and external solar forcing, when combined with sufficiently volatile (and thus mobile) materials, yields an active world. Pluto may have inherited a large organic mass fraction during accretion, which may responsible, in part, for its surface and atmospheric volatiles. Charon, Pluto’s major moon, displays evidence of extensive early tectonism and cryovolcanism. Dwarf planets are thus truly planetary in terms of satellite systems and geological and atmospheric complexity (if not ongoing activity). What they may lack in mass is made up in number, and the majority of the Solar System’s dwarf planets remain undiscovered.

Comments: 94 pages, 13 figures; will appear as a chapter/conference proceedings in the Space Science Series volume “The Pluto System After New Horizons,” S.A. Stern et al., University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

DOI: 10.2458/azu_uapress_9780816540945-ch022

Cite as: arXiv:2011.14030 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2011.14030v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history

From: William McKinnon 

[v1] Fri, 27 Nov 2020 23:49:56 UTC (9,103 KB)

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