In July 14, 2015, NASA has released images of a possible ice volcano on Pluto, the pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), from a range of about 48,000 kilometers, showing features as small as 450 meters across. Scientists have assembled highest-resolution color view of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface.
Pluto remained largely invisible to scientists until July 2015, when the New Horizons space probe flew past it, giving humanity its first high resolution view at the dwarf planet’s surface. Before the New Horizons flyby, most scientists thought Pluto would prove to be too small to maintain the internal heat needed to power geological processes such as glacier flows and volcanism. But the spacecraft revealed a far younger surface than scientists had expected, suggesting that geological processes are taking place on Pluto, and that something must be keeping things warm beneath the surface.
Two huge mountains, spanning many miles across, sit at the southern fringe of Pluto. The mountains are informally named Wright Mons and Picard Mons, and at their crests, each peak hosts a central crater known as “shield volcanoes” on Earth. Piccard Mons towers as high as 6 kilometers above the surface and is located just beyond the day/night boundary, therefore the only pictures we’ve of it are taken in twilight. Wright Mons is just 3-5 kilometers high, and both mountains are roughly circular in shape with a deep depression at their summit.
Jeff Moore, of NASA Ames Research Field, said that they were not yet ready to conclusively pronounce that there is evidence for cryovolcanism on Pluto. Scientists could not yet understand what is generating heat inside Pluto necessary to create a volcano on its surface. One possibility is that an ammonia-water slurry mantle lies beneath the surface, according to a statement from AAS.
Professor Jay Melosh , of Purdue University in Indiana, suggested that, as cooler material sinks through the subsurface layers, hot material might rise, leading to geological activity that could include cryovolcanism.