Are There Active Ice Volcanoes On Pluto?

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Pluto’s two peaks, which loom above the dwarf planet’s surface, have baffled planetary researchers for ages. Some hypothesized that it was an ice volcano, but no cauldron-like caldera was seen, blasting forth massive volumes of frozen slush instead of lava.

Now that pictures and topographical data have been thoroughly analyzed, it seems to be a collection of ice volcanoes, some reaching heights of up to 7,000 meters and spanning an area of up to 150 km. In the wake of this finding, scientists are now again debating whether Pluto is warm enough to sustain volcanic activity.

Located on the southern border of a massive heart-shaped ice blanket, those surface characteristics were originally discovered by Nasa’s New Horizons probe in July 2015, as it sailed by the icy former planet as well as its moons. When these structures were first discovered, an ice volcano appeared like the most reasonable explanation for them, given there were no impact craters from asteroids or meteors nearby, and no evidence of plate tectonics, which is a major contributor to mountain creation on Earth.

Many additional photos and compositional as well as topographical information have been received since those first photographs were sent back in 2015. The research has come to the conclusion that these odd phenomena are in fact volcanoes, despite the fact that their look and behavior are considerably different from those seen on Earth.

This substance seems to be mostly water ice, although it may also include antifreeze components like ammonia or methanol, based on its compositional data. That Pluto’s rocky core may be warmer than previously thought, and that heat energy emitted from the radioactive decay of some of its components is being stored and occasionally released, generating volcanic eruptions, might be one possible explanation for this finding.


The research was published in the Nature Communications journal and you can read it here.

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