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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

The Ice Volcanoes of Pluto

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, November 10, 2015/Categories: natural history, photography, space science, environment

The recent images of Pluto returned by the New Horizons space probe produced an amazing observation of potential ice volcanoes that might erupt liquid ammonia. According to NASA, two of the cryovolcano candidates are large mountainous features measuring tens of miles across and several miles high.

Oliver White, a post-doctoral candidate on the New Horizons team said: “These are big mountains have a large hole in their summit, and on Earth that generally means one thing---a volcano, If they are volcanic, then the summit depression would likely have formed via collapse as material erupted from underneath. The strange hummocky texture of the mountain flanks may represent volcanic flows that have traveled down the summit and onto the plains beyond."

Team geologists combined images of Pluto’s surface to create 3-D maps that indicate two of Pluto’s most distinctive mountains could be ice volcanoes that may have been active in the recent geological past. Here on Earth volcanoes spew molten lavarock while on Pluto the ice volcanoes would eject a melted slurry of water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane.

                                        3D Maps of Pluto Cryovolcanoes (credit: New Horizons)

Using images of Pluto’s surface for the topographic maps, geologists determined that Pluto’s mountains, informally named Wright Mons and Piccard Mons, could be ice volcanoes. Colors depict elevation changes where blue is lower terrain and brown the higher elevations. Green terrains are intermediate heights.

Another amazing New Horizons discovery is the chaotic and random nature of the dwarf planet's five moons excluding the large moon Charon which is tidally "locked" in its orbit around Pluto.

There have been so many amazing surprises at the Pluto. More amazing discoveries should emerge as New Horizons explores other strange objects as it cruses the outer Solar System.


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