Why do the volcanoes of Pluto hint at life beneath its surface?

New Horizons spacecraft flies over Pluto

the mission new Horizons NASA continues to amaze scientists. When the probe flew over the dwarf planet now in 2015, it took unprecedented pictures One of the most important distant objects in our solar system.

Experts are still analyzing the data and information provided by the ship who developed incredible theories about the formations there and that the heat beneath the dwarf planet’s surface could A hint of life potential. Researchers believe that a region of Pluto formed by the eruption of ice volcanoes is unique in this cold, distant world. The mission began in 2006, and took detailed images of the surface of Pluto, a dwarf planet and the largest object in the Kuiper belt.

Now new condition Published scientific journal Nature Communications Checks images of an area containing Two major hills suggested by experts as ice volcanoes. The study authors conclude that the surface surrounding these ridges was likely formed by the fairly recent activity of ice volcanoes or ice volcanoes.

This discovery raises the possibility that these volcanoes are still active and that liquid water, or something like that, may have flowed or recently flowed under Pluto’s surface. The latest activity also means that there is likely to be more heat inside Pluto than scientists previously thought. They say looking at other recent research Their work could increase the possibility of life under Pluto’s surface.

Volcanic formation captured on a flight on New Horizons (NASA)

The researchers analyzed images of an area dominated by two large hills called Wright Mons and Piccard Mons, Which scientists believe are ice volcanoes. The Wright Mons is a ridge 4-5 km in height and about 150 km in width, while Picard Mons is about 7 km in height and 250 km in width.

Suspected ice volcanoes also have very deep depressions at their summits: Right Mons It is as deep as the height of a mountain. Many parts of the region also have an unusual, bumpy, or ‘hamuki’ appearance, made up of undulating, rounded mounds. Researchers believe that smaller mounds, which formed from ice volcanoes, may have built up over time to form these two major mounds.

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There were no other regions on Pluto similar to this region. The way these features look is quite different from any volcano in the solar system, whether they are ice examples or rock volcanoes. “They formed like mountains, but there’s no caldera on top, and they have big bulges all over,” said Kelsey Singer, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the study. Although Pluto has a rocky core, scientists have long believed that the planet lacks a lot of internal heat, Which is necessary to stimulate volcanic activity. To create the area that Singer and his team studied, there would have been many volcanic eruption sites.

Pluto was not known as a distant world, until a NASA mission to photograph and record it arrived (REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL)
Pluto was not known as a distant world, until a NASA mission to photograph and record it arrived (REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL)

As noted by the research team The region has no impact craters, which can be seen on the surface of Pluto, indicating that ice volcanoes have been active relatively recently, and that the interior of Pluto contains more residual heat than expected. “This means that Pluto has more internal heat than we thought, which means we don’t fully understand how planetary bodies work,” Singer said. Depending on the lack of drilling, the area is likely no more than a billion or two billion years old, with some areas likely less than 200 million years.

in a way, Frozen volcanoes are similar to volcanoes on Earth as most of Pluto’s surface consists of ice and temperatures on Pluto are well below the freezing point of water. This means that liquid water, or something like that that’s liquid or at least partially mobile, would be like magma on Earth, rising to the surface after an eruption and freezing, or solidifying into a solid.

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It probably won’t come out completely liquid; Maybe it’s more like a slush where you have some liquid and some ice, or it may be more like a flowing solid, which can be more like ketchup or clay. It could be more solid ice that can still flow. We all know ice can flow because we have glaciers flowing on Earth.”

Cold volcanic activity on Pluto is likely driven by radiant heat from the decay of radioactive elements in the dwarf planet's interior (NASA)
Cold volcanic activity on Pluto is likely driven by radiant heat from the decay of radioactive elements in the dwarf planet’s interior (NASA)

Although scientists don’t fully understand how cold volcanic activity on Pluto might work, it’s likely driven by radiant heat from the decay of radioactive elements in the dwarf planet’s interior.. A similar phenomenon is also one of the sources of heat in the Earth’s interior, although there is no Pluto tectonic platesAnd the The complex system of displacement of the continental crust that underlies the geological activity of the Earth. Scientists call geological activity as Pluto’s “general tectonics,” which can still create fault-like features in rocks but not plate tectonics.

Pluto’s ice volcanoes show some similarities to Earth’s shield volcanoes, which are low-lying volcanoes that form from the continuous accumulation of lava flows into round structures.. But shield volcanoes usually consist of highly liquid lava, contrary to what scientists believe occurred on Pluto.

Some volcanoes on Earth and other planets also have a depression in the center called a caldera, which forms when a newly erupted volcano collapses into the void left by all the material it has released. But the depression at Wright Mons is so deep that the volcano would have lost about half its volume to have a shape similar to Mauna Loa, a shield volcano in Hawaii that is one of the largest on Earth. It is relatively small, like the caldera, although the two structures are similar in size, Singer said.

The New Horizons mission was launched in 2006 by NASA (HUBBLESITE)
The New Horizons mission was launched in 2006 by NASA (HUBBLESITE)

There are still many researchers who do not know about these features, how they were formed, and how ice volcanoes operate on Pluto. TheThe idea that liquid water could exist beneath Pluto’s surface increases the chances of life on Pluto from nearly non-existent to more plausible.given another Research Which indicates that Pluto was hot when it first formed and may still have Under the liquid ocean its frozen surface.

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“I think it’s a little more promising, and that there can be some heat and liquid water, probably liquid, near the surface. But there are still big challenges for the poor microbes that want to live on Pluto,” the expert said.

They will still need some continuous source of nutrients, and if the volcanoes are episodic and so the availability of heat and water is variable, this is sometimes difficult for living things as well.Investigating Pluto’s intriguing surface requires sending an orbiter to the distant world. “If we send a future mission, we can use ice-penetrating radar to look directly at Pluto and maybe even see what volcanic tubes look like,” Singer hopes.

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Lovell Loxley

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