Giant ice volcanoes discovered on Pluto

– © NASA / Zhuapal / SWRY

Analysis of data and images collected by the New Horizons mission has revealed surface structures that appear to be produced by a phenomenon called cryovolcanism, of a type and scale that is unheard of elsewhere in the world. Solar System.

strange domes of ice

In 2015, investigation new Horizons Of NASA was flying up Pluto, giving us an unprecedented glimpse of a distant dwarf planet. Years later, the data collected continues to shed new light on this frozen world, as shown in this new study, led by scientists Southwest Research Institute and published in the magazine nature communication,

Measuring 1 to 7 kilometers high and 30 to 100 wide, the peculiar domes described by the researchers were discovered in an area southwest of the famous plain. artificial satellite, It seems that many of them merged to form the most imposing structures, presenting an irregular relief characterized by an alternation of hills, mounds and depressions.

According to the team, this type of geology bears an uncanny resemblance to that produced by cryovolcanism, a phenomenon similar to classical volcanism, where viscous fluids made of ice, water and ammonia replace hot, molten rocks. Although this has already been observed on other cold bodies in the Solar System, such as Enceladusthe moon of Saturnand dwarf planets Ceresand that it had long been suspected of occurring PlutoThis new research provides additional evidence.

Pluto’s cryovolcanic region as seen by New Horizons – © NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

, The special structures we studied are unique to Pluto, at least so far “, Explain Kelsey Singer, lead author of the study. , Rather than erosion or other geological processes, cryovolcanic activity has emitted a large amount of material to the surface, redecorating the entire region of the hemisphere that New Horizons has been able to observe up close. ,

Search raising new questions

The fact that the region is almost completely free of craters suggests that it is relatively young geologically. But this only raises new questions.

Since cryovolcanism involves a minimal amount of heat (allowing matter to remain in a viscous state), it is possible that Pluto’s entrails may have received more of this in the past, or that they were able to hold it for longer than expected. Were.

, One of the benefits of exploring new places within the Solar System is that we find things we didn’t expect. “Valuable singer, , These strange-looking giant cryovolcanoes observed by New Horizons are helping to expand our knowledge of volcanic processes and geological activity in the icy world., ,

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