(ORDO NEWS) — Two hills that hang over the surface of the dwarf planet Pluto have confused planetary scientists for many years.
Some have even suggested that it was an icy volcano, spewing large volumes of freezing mud rather than lava. However, no cauldron like caldera has been observed.
Careful examination of photographs and topographic data indicates the confluence of several ice volcanoes, some of which reach 7,000 meters in height and span about 10-150 kilometers. The discovery sparked a new debate – what keeps Pluto warm enough to support volcanic activity?
These strange surface features, which lie at the southern tip of the massive ice sheet, were first noticed when NASA’s New Horizons mission in July 2015 took the first close-up photos of the frozen planet and its moons.
Volcanoes on Pluto keep erupting
There is a region on Pluto that astronomers believe was formed by erupting ice volcanoes, which is very unusual for a dwarf planet.
The author of the study, Kelsey Singer, a senior research fellow at the Southwestern Research Institute in Boulder (USA), noted in a CNN report that some of the domes shown in the photographs blend together, creating even more gigantic mountains. But what could have caused their existence? Volcanic ice.
There was information about ice volcanoes elsewhere in the solar system. They create a new landscape by moving rock from the bowels to the surface. The water in this case quickly turned to ice when it reached Pluto’s surface temperature.
The appearance of these characteristics, Singer said, is unlike the appearance of any other volcanoes in the solar system, whether icy or rocky. They started out as mountains, but there is no caldera at the top and they are covered in big bumps.
Although Pluto has a rocky core, scientists have long suspected that the planet lacks the necessary internal heat to support volcanism.
The absence of impact craters in the area, observed across Pluto’s surface, indicates that ice volcanoes have been active very recently. Pluto’s core, Singer says, retains significantly more residual heat than predicted.
The region under study lies southwest of the Sputnik Planitia ice sheet, which covers an ancient impact basin 1,000 kilometers in size. It is mostly composed of uneven water ice and is covered in volcanic domes. Wright Mons and Pickard Mons are the two largest.
Piccard Mons has a height of about 7 kilometers and a width of 225 kilometers, while Wright Mons has a height of 4-5 kilometers and a coverage of 150 kilometers.
Wright Mons is comparable in size to the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Scientists aren’t sure how Pluto’s cryovolcanic activity occurs. Most likely, in the bowels of the planet there are radioactive materials that release heat during decay.
Even though Pluto lacks plate tectonics, experts believe that a complex system of moving continental crust underlies Earth’s geologic activity. This phenomenon is considered one of the sources of heat in the Earth’s core.
Scientists call the geologic activity on Pluto “general tectonics,” which can create such characteristics without having tectonic plates.
Previously, scientists had concluded that Pluto was hot at the time of formation, and therefore could still have a liquid ocean under its icy surface. The very idea that liquid water could exist beneath Pluto’s surface raises the possibility of biological life on it.
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