May 19, 2022

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Bildet viser isvulkaner på dvergplaneten Pluto.

Are ice volcanoes a sign of life? Unique landscape on Pluto revealed in new analysis – NRK Trøndelag

In 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto. This resulted in completely unique images, which researchers to this day still spend time analyzing.

And it turns out that meticulous work is profitable.

At the moment, they have discovered a very special terrain on the dwarf planet. A surface unlike anything else.

– We found a field with very large and frozen volcanoes. These are unlike anything else we’ve seen in the solar system before, says Kelsey Singer. She is a planetary scientist and deputy director of NASA’s New Horizons Project.

The new study It was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Not like other volcanoes in space

When New Horizons passed by Pluto in 2015, scientists believed that the images showed two massive images Ice volcanoes. These were later called Wright Mons and Piccard Mons.

Now the experts changed their opinion.

It may seem that the two summits are not separate glacial volcanoes, but are the result of a structure formed by many volcanoes and eruptions.

The highest point towers about 7000 meters above the ground.

The shape of these mountains stands out greatly. They do not have the typical pot-like crater like other volcanoes. Plus, you see what look like big balls along the mountains, says Singer Space.com.

Planetary scientists now want answers first and foremost One Question: How did this happen?

An unknown temperature under the surface?

The new discovery may lead to more questions than answers.

But according to scientists, there may be a possibility that these volcanoes on Pluto are still active.

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For volcanoes to be active, one would have to have some form of heat in the depths. The maybe It talks about some kind of liquid under the surface of the dwarf planet.

– There is hardly pure water, but the water inside is salt, for example, it can remain liquid up to minus 60 degrees. Nitrogen and methane are liquid at very low temperatures, and are probably more likely alternatives than salt water. Geologist Hans-Erik Vos Amundsen tells NRK.

Hans-Eric Vos Amundsen is a geologist. He finds the results exciting, and has no problem believing that Pluto might have some form of heat in its inner core.

Photo: Gabrielle Graatrud / NRK

He thinks the new study is interesting.

– Surprisingly, these volcanoes can be active to this day. He says that the absence of craters in this area indicates that the eruptions occurred not so long ago.

Because Pluto has a core of rock, it has long been thought that the cold planet at the far end of the solar system lacks internal heating, Kelsey Singer explains.

The topography we see now indicates that many ice volcanoes have been active recently. This means that Pluto has more internal heat than we thought. Which in turn means we don’t fully understand how this planet works, she says.

Ice volcanoes likely existed over several periods, and were probably only active 100-200 million years ago. Geologically speaking, this is considered Recently.

Seeing Pluto and Charon from New Horizons

Seeing Pluto and Charon from New Horizons. Charon is one of the five known moons of the dwarf planet.

Photo: NASA

different outbreak

Pluto is a dwarf planet and was first discovered in 1930 by Clyde William Tombaugh. Its surface temperature is about 240 degrees below zero, and it is about 40 times farther from the Sun than Earth.

The planetary researcher notes that if you’re lucky enough to see a volcanic eruption on Pluto, the spectacle will likely be a little different than you expected.

Because when most people think of volcanoes, we imagine the kind of thing that breathes fire. But as the name suggests, it’s not the lava that emerges from an ice volcano.

– This material may be a slippery mixture of ice and liquid. The toothpaste may appear to be flowing from some kind of valve, says Singer.

Because it is so cold on the surface of Pluto, the slush hardens relatively quickly. And most likely this process is behind the special terrain that scientists have now discovered.

So there is no activity in 2015

In 2015, scientists were unable to see anything resembling volcanic activity on Pluto. But then they only had one day to study the area.

– but they can act a bit like volcanoes on Earth, which lie dormant for a long time. Kelsey Singer says they are energized again all of a sudden.

And if there is activity, there is also another question to consider: Could this mean that an icy planet is still suitable for any kind of life?

In theory, yes. But what we do know for sure is that is the only place life exists on Earth, says geologist Amundsen.

But he firmly believes that these exciting things happen on Pluto.

Before the images appeared, Pluto was thought to be a dead state, frozen in blue. But we now know that there are a lot of geological processes going on out there. It really is completely unimaginable.