Active giant ice volcanoes on Pluto suggest the possibility of life

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NASA’s New Horizons mission continues to unravel the mysteries of the dwarf planet. Thus, images and geologic composition data reported by the probe show ice volcanoes of a relatively recent age. Like terrestrial volcanoes, it is possible that these cryovolcanoes have become active again after a period of inactivity. Pluto’s internal heat also raises the question of the possibility of life on this planet.

Pluto is a dwarf planet with mountains, valleys, glaciers, plains and craters, and an extremely low temperature (average -229°C). As a reminder, scientists had revealed in 2019 the existence of liquid oceans under the thick layer of ice† Today, NASA’s New Horizons probe delivers surprising images of Pluto, showing ice volcanoes.

The appearance of these features is very different from that of all volcanoes in the solar system, be they glacial volcanoes or rock volcanoes.said Bee CNN Kelsi Singer, senior researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and co-author of the new study. † They formed like mountains, but there is no caldera [cratère volcanique géant] at the top, and they have large bumps all over their surface

New Horizons was the first spacecraft to fly past Pluto in July 2015, and spotted two large cryovolcanoes in the Sputnik Ice Plain: Mount Wright and Mount Piccard. The observed area covers an ancient impact basin with a diameter of 1000 kilometers, and you should know that the volume of Mount Wright Mons is comparable to that of Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, one of the largest rock volcanoes in the world!

Pluto: unexpected internal heat and “recent” ice volcanoes

How can such volcanoes form? Liquid water beneath Pluto’s surface may have turned to ice when it reached surface freezing temperatures. † Pluto’s surface is so cold that liquid water cannot stay there for long. Singer added. Rather than an eruption of magma, this type of volcano projects a “slush” of ice and water. In some cases, the material flow has also shaped the huge domes and “bumpy” terrain in this region.

Furthermore, the researchers noted that “ the New Horizons probe has returned images and compositional data showing that Pluto’s terrains are of different ages, ranging from relatively old and heavily cratered areas to very young surfaces with few or no impact craters. This is the case for places where ice volcanoes have been observed, suggesting that they were active quite recently and that Pluto’s internal heat must be higher than expected to allow for such geological activity.

According to Singer, cryovolcanoes must have formed in “multiple episodes” and were probably active 100 to 200 million years ago, which is very young in geologic history (counted in billions of years). The existence of these volcanoes could also support the hypothesis of the presence of liquid water very close to the dwarf planet’s surface.

Since the New Horizons mission team has only been able to observe the area for about a day, it’s possible the ice volcanoes are still active. † They may look like Earth’s volcanoes that are inactive for a while and then become active again Singer continued.

Pluto’s unexpected internal heat also raises questions about the possibility of life being present on this planet. † There are still many challenges for organisms trying to survive on this planet.They would always need a continuous food source, and if volcanism is episodic and therefore the availability of heat and water is variable, this is sometimes difficult for the organisms as well ‘, the researcher tempers.

Source: NatureCommunication