New Horizons spacecraft’s data suggest that two towering mountains on Pluto may be ice volcanoes, scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center said Monday. If the mountains, which are over 100 miles wide and several miles tall, are indeed volcanoes, it would be the first time researchers detect such landforms in the outer solar system.
The findings were first unveiled at a gathering of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Maryland. Nevertheless, New Horizons researchers acknowledged that the two mountains may have other origins. Yet, one of them said he was no longer able to ‘unsee’ volcanoes.
Oliver white, a senior member of the New Horizons team and volcano expert with a PhD in the field, said that his professional experience compels him to tag a huge mountain with a ‘hole in the top’ as a volcano.
“While it’s crazy, it’s still the least crazy idea we can think of,”
Principal investigator Alan Stern explained that scientists never saw such a structure on the planets of the middle solar system. Stern added that the findings are ‘amazing’ since the planet is now very similar under this aspect to our home planet.
New Horizons had its first encounter with Pluto July 14. During the historic flyby, it took many high-resolution close-ups of the icy world, it probed its atmosphere, and took a quick glance at its five moons.
Charon, which is Pluto’s largest moon, is half the size of the planet which made many scientists ponder on whether the moon was in fact another planet. Just like our moon, Charon always shows Pluto the same face while rotating. It takes 6.4 days for it to perform a full rotation.
Yet, the other four moons are more chaotic in their movement since they spin a lot faster than they should if we take into consideration Pluto’s gravitational pull. Scientists believe that two of these moons emerged in the wake of a violent collision between two space bodies. The two moons may have been glued together at some point in their history.
New Horizons data revealed other intriguing details on the remote dwarf planet. Pluto’s nitrogen atmosphere is colder than previously estimated, and it doesn’t span as much into the outer space as previously thought.
Leslie Young, a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, admitted that scientists thought that the planet’s thin atmosphere was seven to eight times larger than the planet. New data revealed that it is only two and a half times larger.
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