Research

Pluto: Cryovolcanoes

Since its flyby last summer, NASA’s New Horizons mission has had planetary scientists questioning all our assumptions about Pluto and its fellow cold, icy worlds on the outskirts of the solar system. The two mountainous features above, the 4-km tall Wright Mons and 5.6-km tall Piccard Mons, are part of the mystery. Both mountains have a large depression in the middle, and their appearance from orbit is consistent with volcanoes seen on Earth and other planets. But instead of rock, these mountains are formed from water ice, and rather than spewing hot magma, it’s believed that these mountains are cryovolcanoes that erupt with a slurry of water, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane. Since no active eruptions were recorded during the flyby, scientists cannot be certain of the hypothesis, but it does explain the observed features. Check out the video below for a terrestrial demonstration of a “cryovolcano”. (Photo credits: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI; video credit: A. Cheri/U. Wash)

Join FYFD all this week for a look at the fluid dynamics and planetary science of Pluto!

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