aEven though Pluto lost its “planet” title on August 24, 2006, and has since only been listed by astronomers as minor planet 134340, it’s still an exciting celestial body.
With a diameter of 2,377 kilometers, Pluto is the largest known small planet moving in a very eccentric orbit at the edge of our solar system. The distance that separates it from the Sun is between 4.4 and 7.3 billion km. It takes about 250 years for Pluto to complete one orbit.
American researchers from southwestern research institute Discover a unique form of volcano on Pluto. in the review”Nature CommunicationThey reported that in the recent cosmic past, sticky water ice seeped from the interior of the young planet and accumulated icebergs up to seven kilometers high. Its diameters vary between ten and 150 kilometers.
100 million years of icebergs
Researchers infer the young age of some of these ice volcanoes from the discovery that there are virtually no craters in their vicinity at the edge of the large plain of Sputnik Planitia covered in frozen nitrogen. In this case, researchers understand that the early age is at least 100 million years. This is actually a relatively short period of time given that Pluto’s age is believed to be 4.5 billion years.
Frozen volcanoes, in which icy material is ejected from a celestial body instead of hot molten rock, are not in themselves a new phenomenon. Researchers have already observed similar activities on different moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune.
Scientists led by Kelsey Singer say the size and domed structure of ice volcanoes on Pluto are unique. The two largest glaciers named Wright Mons and Piccard Mons have melted. Piccard Mons is similar in size to Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
Water ice covered with frozen nitrogen
The researchers’ findings are based on data from NASA’s space probe.new Horizons, which flew past Pluto at a distance of 12,000 km in July 2015. At that time, high-resolution images of Pluto and its moons could be taken and transmitted wirelessly to Earth for the first time. Spectroscopic measurements, i.e. measurements at different wavelengths of light, were also performed.
Scientists have re-evaluated these measures. Spectral data shows that the mountains of Pluto are made of massive frozen water ice. Then there is a thin layer of frozen nitrogen and frozen methane on top. The spectra also highlighted the presence of organic molecules on the icebergs.
The composition and thickness of the layers vary from mountain to mountain. From there, the researchers concluded that all the icebergs did not form at the same time, but gradually.
Charon is half the size of Pluto
Even ice volcanoes are only possible if there is enough heat energy in the celestial body to drive the process. Thus, the new findings suggest that Pluto has stored heat inside longer than previously thought, or has its own heat-generating mechanism.
In principle, two effects are involved here: on the one hand, the decay heat of radioactive substances can ensure active regeneration. Second, tidal forces between Pluto and its moons can generate heat inside.
Charon, the deepest and largest of Pluto’s five known moons, is relatively large with a diameter of over 1,200 kilometers. Its diameter is more than half the diameter of Pluto. The common center of gravity of the two celestial bodies, around which they both move, is located far from Pluto.
Researchers don’t know how the tiny planet on the outskirts of the solar system managed to maintain its inner fire for so long. However, they don’t rule out that Pluto is hot inside today. It is also possible to imagine an ocean of liquid water between the core and the mantle of a celestial body.