Pluto volcanoes are still active

Until the second half of the twentiethas well as century, geologists and planetary scientists were far from suspecting the importance volcanism in solar systemstarting with the Earth itself and its geodynamics, controlled by tectonic plates. Everything will change with developmentastronautics and in particular with tourist missions who will make us discover io volcanism, moon hellish out Jupiterand cryovolcanism Triton about Neptune. Today we even wonder Possible eruptions on Venus and potential cryovolcanoes have even been found on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. In fact, there is already a large amount of work on volcanoes The solar system, as evidenced by the book Planetary volcanism in the solar system in collaboration with Rosalie Lopezfamous planetologist NASA.

For several years, researchers have also wondered about the existence of volcanoes on the surface. Pluto but so far they have remained quite circumspect in examining the images provided by the mission. new Horizons in July 2015, during his only visit to the area dwarf planet and his procession of moons.

What are the sources of heat for volcanoes in the solar system?

Indeed, it takes the internal energy in the form heat in a rocky celestial body to have volcanism, which lava released from basalt molten or mixture of water,ammonia and methanol is thought to be in cryovolcanoes. For planets like Venus and Earth, this heat is a legacy of the processaccretion gravitational and especially radioactive elements brought by accretion. Therefore, they received the weaker supply of energy, which is depleted the faster, the smaller the planet. It is for this reason that there is no more volcanic activity on the Moon. Mercury for a long time, even if we suspect that some eruptions are still possible in the case of the moon.

In case And about and D’EnceladusSaturn’s moon geysersthey are considered tidal forces who heats these stars. This does not apply to Pluto today (with the exception of the beginning of its history with the birth of its main moon, Charon), which is also smaller than the moon. Thus, logically, one cannot expect significant volcanic or other activity on the surface of Pluto, which, therefore, should be dead and heavily cratered.

On this last point, this is certainly not the case, since the images of the plain show Satellitenamed after the first artificial satellite and is a plain about 1000 kilometers wide, consisting of icenitrogenmethane and carbon monoxide. It is indeed relatively smooth and crater free, so it should probably be no more than 100 million years old. In addition, there is a polygonal structure, which was first interpreted as a manifestation of cells convection nitrogen-carbon dioxide ice. But recently this interpretation has been challenged..

Unprecedented cryovolcanism

A group of planetary scientists recently published an article in NatureCommunication where they explain that the images and data provided new Horizons strongly suggest that the region southwest of the Sputnik Plain does contain cryovolcanoes, but they appear in a way that has never been seen before when looking at other known cryovolcanoes in the solar system. However, the existence of this phenomenon on Pluto is not considered for the first time..

This region had already attracted the attention of researchers in 2015 because it seemed very different from others, and analysis of the images and the revealed topography has continued since then. According to planetary scientists, other geological processes have demonstrated that cryovolcanoes are unlikely to create the observed features. For example, in this area there are significant differences between the elevations and descents of the terrain that could not have been created by erosion.

Data on the chemical composition of the discovered interesting structures suggest that they are mainly water ice. But given the average temperature of Pluto, about 40 kelvins (-233°C), even with a small addition of ammonia or methanol, the proposed cryovolcanoes should not emit liquid water, and visible flows should rather be like flows glaciersalthough it’s really about movement to matter similar to liquid lava erupted by volcanoes.

This is enough to revive speculation about the exact energy sources that make Pluto still a living celestial body.

One of the benefits of exploring new places in the solar system is that we find things we didn’t expect. These giant eerie cryovolcanoes observed by New Horizons are a great example of how we are expanding our knowledge of volcanic processes and the geological activity of ice worlds. “, explained Kelsey Singer, Project Scientist new Horizons from Southwestern Research InstituteBoulder, CO, and senior author of the published paper.

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