Pluto May Have Ice Volcanoes, and New Horizons Got a Peek2 min read

Today, the New Horizons team dropped some science from an unfamiliar location. I mean, yes, all its results are coming from the Pluto system, but today Alan Stern & Co. presented this mountainous map at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences. And it looks…kind of familiar.



The blue spot in the middle of the informally-named Piccard Mons and that belly button-looking depression in neighboring Wright Mons are areas of low elevation. And on Earth, that kind of hole in the middle of a mountain only means one thing: volcano.

OK, we get it. New Horizons was a complicated mission. One does not simply walk onto Pluto, right? Ooh! Wait! I got it. Ring of mountains? Volcano in the middle? It’s Mordor!

Now, sure, these volcanoes are really only maybe-volcanoes, because Pluto is, like, really far away, man. And so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on. If they are volcanoes, they won’t be spewing magma or lava bombs. These would be cryovolcanoes. Ice vulcanism! The New Horizons team thinks that these structures could have formed when a slurry of water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane erupted from beneath the dwarf planet’s surface. The One Ring wouldn’t dissolve into steaming fizz; it’d freeze and crackle into shards. Which would be cool. Whatever works, right?



As for this video of Pluto’s wobbling, bobbling, precessing moons? Yyyyyeah. Pluto’s moons have super-weird shapes, which might be why they orbit like drunk college kids circling that one bar that doesn’t card. Or it could be that Charon, the biggest moon, exerts extra pull on all the smaller ones. Either way, don’t stare too long.


Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

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