A region of Pluto thought to have formed through the explosion of ice volcanoes is unique to the dwarf planet and the solar system. NASA’s New Horizons mission, which launched in 2006, captured accurate images of Pluto’s surface. A new study looks at photos of a region with two major peaks that experts believe are ice volcanoes. The researchers believe that the surface around these peaks was most likely produced by the recent activity of the ice volcanoes. The discovery raises the likelihood that these volcanoes are currently active and that water, or something similar, flows or has recently flowed beneath Pluto’s surface. The recent activity also suggests that Pluto’s core has more heat than scientists initially imagined. This raises the potential of life existing under Pluto’s surface.
The scientists examined pictures of an area dominated by two huge peaks known as Wright Mons and Piccard Mons. The alleged ice volcanoes all have exceptionally deep pits at their summit, with the one on Wright Mons being roughly as deep as the mount itself. This section of Pluto features few or no collision craters, suggesting that the surface was created very recently in geologic history. Based on the absence of craters, the area is most likely little more than one or two billion years old, with certain sections possibly as young as 200 million years.
Because much of Pluto’s land is formed of ice, and temperatures on Pluto are considerably below the freezing point of water, ice volcanoes may be similar to volcanoes on Earth in certain aspects. W water would behave similarly to magma on Earth, rising to the summit after an eruption and freezing, or hardening, into a solid.
The possibility of liquid water under Pluto’s surface raises the likelihood of life on Pluto from essentially non-existent to somewhat more likely.