Pluto's Ice Volcanoes and Spinning Moons

Posted on November 9, 2015

Cryovolcanoes on Pluto

Pluto continues to be full of surprises. The latest discoveries from NASA's New Horizons team include spinning moons and the possibility of Pluto having two ice volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) on its surface. These ice volcanoes may have been active in Pluto's recent geological past.

The two cryovolcano candidates are large features measuring tens of miles or kilometers across and several miles or kilometers high. They are the 2-mile high Wright Mons and the 3.5 mile high Picard Mons. In the image above the blue indicates lower terrain, the brown shows higher elevation and the green indicates intermediate heights. NASA says ice volcanoes on Pluto would emit a "melted slurry of substances such as water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane."

Oliver White, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California., says in a statement, "These are big mountains with a large hole in their summit, and on Earth that generally means one thing -- a volcano. If they are volcanic, then the summit depression would likely have formed via collapse as material is erupted from underneath. The strange hummocky texture of the mountain flanks may represent volcanic flows of some sort that have traveled down from the summit region and onto the plains beyond, but why they are hummocky, and what they are made of, we don't yet know."

Pluto's moon mergers

Data from New Horizons is also revealing new information about Pluto's moons. The smaller moons "behave like spinning tops" says co-investigator Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute. mages of Pluto's four smallest satellites about indicate some of them could be the results of mergers of two or more moons. Here is an animation showing Pluto's spinning moons.