The little guy of the solar system has something interesting on the surface.
Despite being relegated to dwarf planet status back in 2006, Pluto still holds a special place in many a heart as the little planet that could. This is a reason why NASA still spends plenty of time researching it, along with the fact that its icy surface contains all kinds of information about the formation of life in extreme cold. The latest discovery, courtesy of NASA’s New Horizons mission, has some interesting implications.
New photos of Pluto’s surface show previously unseen bumpy protrusions, which upon further study, are believed to be “ice volcanos,” mountainous structures that launch out slurries of slushy water and ice.
“The way these features look is very different than any volcanoes across the solar system, either icy examples or rocky volcanoes,” said study author Kelsi Singer, senior research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “They formed as mountains, but there is no caldera at the top, and they have large bumps all over them.”
“The icy material was probably more of a slushy mix of ice and water or more like toothpaste while it flowed out of a volcanic vent onto the surface of Pluto,” Singer said. “It is so cold on the surface of Pluto that liquid water cannot remain there for long. In some cases, the flow of material formed the massive domes that we see, as well as the lumpy terrain found everywhere in this region.”
This discovery provides some interesting implications about how Pluto gained the relatively little surface it has from its solid rock core. If a camera could ever be launched to the edge of the solar system, we could get a closer look at the internal systems of these volcanoes.