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Did Pluto get tipped over?

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Pluto reorients to volatile ices filling Sputnik Planitia. Tides from moon Charon reorient Pluto/James Keane, NASA, JHUAPL, SWRI

From Daniel Stolte at University of Arizona News:

Sputnik Planitia, a 1,000-kilometer-wide basin within the iconic heart-shaped region observed on Pluto’s surface, could be in its present location because accumulation of ice made the dwarf planet roll over, creating cracks and tensions in the crust that point toward the presence of a subsurface ocean.

Published in the Nov. 17 issue of Nature, these are the conclusions of research by James Keane, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and his adviser, assistant professor Isamu Matsuyama. They propose evidence of frozen nitrogen pileup throwing the entire planet off kilter, much like a spinning top with a wad of gum stuck to it, in a process called true polar wander.

The paper is published alongside a report by Francis Nimmo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and colleagues, who also consider the implications for Pluto’s apparent reorientation. The authors of that paper agree with the idea that tidal forces could explain the current location of Sputnik Planitia, but in order for their model to work, a subsurface ocean would have to be present on Pluto today.

Both publications underscore the notion of a surprisingly active Pluto.

“Before New Horizons, people usually only thought of volatiles in terms of a thin frost veneer, a surface effect that might change the color, or affect local or regional geology,” Keane said. “That the movement of volatiles and shifting ice around a planet could have a dramatic, planet-moving effect is not something anyone would have predicted.” More.

Pluto/New Horizons, NASA

See also: Pluto has been resurfaced. But how?

and

Pluto has ice mountains?

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