With help from a color altering technique dubbed principal component analysis, NASA unveiled out-of-this-world image of Pluto. Although the image was rendered in false colors, its goal was to highlight the slight color variations on the dwarf planet’s surface.
Researchers used data gathered by New Horizon probe’s Ralph/MVIC camera from a distance of 22,000 miles during its historic flyby of the remote planet on July 14. The color image was unveiled on Nov. 9 at a gathering of the American Astronomical Society in National Harbor, Md.
Other imagery revealed possible towering ice volcanoes at one of the planet’s poles. One of the volcanoes is 3.1 miles high while the other is 3.5 miles high. Astronomers believe that the gigantic mountains are volcanoes because of the deep gaps at their top. Data also suggests that the volcanoes were someday active.
NASA’s Jeff Moore explained that his team is not absolutely sure that the huge structures are indeed volcanoes, but their ‘suspicious’ look does point into that direction. NASA team explained that if the cryovolcano theory gets confirmed it may mean that the planet’s crust is coated in volatile ice.
Moreover, volatile ice may be an indication of a subsurface heat source. According to one hypothesis, the source may be decaying elements resulted from the planet’s birth. Oliver White of the New Horizons team said that the huge mountains have a large hole in their summit, so the only logical explanation is volcanism, if we take into account what we already know from our planet’s geomorphology.
The research team were also puzzled by the hummocky features on the mountain flanks which may suggest that lava flow reached the plains below. Yet the strange texture of the features has yet to be explained.
Although Pluto’s ice volcanoes resemble those on Earth, scientists believe that they might have spewed a different type of material such as a mix of water ice, methane, nitrogen or ammonia.
If the volcano theory is validated, scientists would be able to learn more about the planet’s geology and atmosphere formation. The recent imagery suggests that the dwarf planet’s surface features vary in age from ancient to young.
Scientists estimated the features’ age by counting their crater impacts. The more crater impacts an area has, the older it is, the team explained. Researchers said that some areas of the planet are as old as our solar system, while other areas such as its ‘heart’ are relatively young.
Image Source: NASA