Pluto contains ice volcanoes “unmatched” in the solar system

biggest fame Ice volcanoes, which spew ice instead of lava, lie on Pluto. Now it turns out that size is not the only feature that distinguishes Pluto’s “ice volcanoes” from others. at study Posted Tuesday in Nature CommunicationsScientists reveal that these frigid volcanoes bear no resemblance to any features you’ve ever seen.

What did the scientists do? – The researchers examined data collected by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it flew close to Pluto in 2015. Focusing on two volcanoes — Wright Mons and Picard Mons — the researchers analyzed images that revealed details about their structures, and infrared and color scans shed light on their formation. .

Rite Mons is about 3.1 miles (5 km) high and extends for approximately 93 miles (150 km), and is similar in size to Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the largest active volcano on Earth. Piccard Mons is larger with a height of about 4.3 miles (7 km) and a width of 140 miles (225 km). Other known volcanoes pale in comparison – for example, Doom Mons on Saturn’s moon Titan is about 0.9 miles (1.5 km) high and 50 miles (80 km) wide.

What did they find? – The cold volcanoes on Pluto look like nothing else scientists have seen. “The biggest part of going somewhere new in the solar system is that you always find something new,” says study lead author Kelsi Singer, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. inverse. “There is nothing else in the solar system that resembles these features.”

Frigid volcanic regions include many volcanic domes, with some merging to form larger structures. These results indicate that a large amount of mostly water ice—more than 2,400 cubic miles (10,000 cubic kilometers)—erupted from multiple locations, likely in more than one event over time.

For example, the flanks of Wright Mons and much of the surrounding terrain are covered with humps that range in width from 3.7 to 7.4 miles (6 to 12 km) on average. These surfaces differ from what can be seen from terrain dried up by glacial erosion or sculpted by flying ice that has turned into vapor—alternatively, they may have formed from viscous flow or either a solid or solid but still mobile substance.

When the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto in 2015, astronomers got their first glimpse of one of the solar system’s strangest and most enigmatic worlds.NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

Other known volcanic eruption features are very different from those of Pluto – either vast flat plains like those of Triton, which may have arisen from lava floods like the lunar hips on Earth’s moon, or some isolated mountains or domes in places like Ceres, Europe, or Titan. “Nothing has the motifs that we found on Pluto,” says Singer.

The unique nature of Pluto’s ice volcanoes likely results from a special combination of a thin atmosphere, extremely cold temperatures, low gravity, and a unique composition. “For example, a liquid like liquid water can remain like water at the Earth’s surface because of our high atmospheric pressure,” says Singer. “But on Pluto, with a thin atmosphere, it’s much closer to vacuum-like conditions, so any liquid that reaches the surface will boil and freeze at the same time and won’t stay liquid for long. It’s also easier to build longer features on Pluto because of the lower gravity.”

These frozen volcanoes appear to have appeared relatively recently in Pluto’s history. It is covered with a small number of craters that regularly cause cosmic impacts on the surface of the planet or the moon, indicating that they are at most one to two billion years old, and possibly much younger.

It is still uncertain how Pluto could still have enough heat for the recently erupted volcanoes to erupt on its surface. With the world less than three-quarters the size of Earth’s moon and less than one-fifth of its mass, scientists had expected that it would have cooled quickly, losing all the heat it is now born with.

One possible explanation is that some of the heat inside Pluto may be trapped between thermally insulating layers, like hot coffee kept in a thermos. “Then, if there’s a fracture or defect that has formed, it can take the heat out all at once,” says Singer.

The two volcanoes in question are already baffling researchers.NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

The discovery of these relatively recent supervolcanoes on Pluto “will make us re-evaluate the possibilities for maintaining liquid water in icy small worlds far from the sun, and the active processes that allow water exchange between surfaces,” says Lynn Kwik, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. State of Maryland, which was not involved in this research, the interiors of these worlds inverse.

Altogether, “finding features that are quite unique to Pluto, which seem to have built up recently in Pluto’s history, tells us we don’t understand everything about how planetary bodies work,” says Singer. “Having more examples of volcanic features across the solar system helps us expand our knowledge of what is possible.”

What then – Much is still unknown about these volcanoes. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of information about what’s going on under Pluto’s surface, and the underground plumbing system is an important part of understanding volcanic activity anywhere in the solar system,” says Singer. “It is likely that getting more information about Earth’s interior will require a Pluto orbiter mission, but sometimes people can come up with innovative ways to learn about what’s under the surface from other observations.”

Besides sending another spacecraft mission to Pluto, future research to learn more about these cold volcanoes should conduct experiments to understand how icy material there behaves under Pluto’s conditions. “There’s very little work on this, so it’s hard to know what numbers to put into models for how these features are formed,” says Singer.

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