Pluto may have giant, 4-mile-high volcanoes that spew ice instead of lava

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Nov 10, 2015, 5:30 PM EST

It was only a few months ago that we actually got our first real pictures of Pluto, and now NASA officials believe the former planet could be home to massive volcanoes that spew ice.

Following some study of images captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, researchers have identified two peaks that loom approximately 4 miles high on the icy dwarf planet. The peaks apparently have physical features that are consistent with volcanoes, including a central crater that matches “shield volcanoes” on Earth. The peaks have been named Wright Mons and Picard Mons.

Of course, this being an icy outpost 3.67 billion miles from the sun, these volcanoes wouldn’t exactly be spewing molten lava onto the deadly cold surface. Instead, a cryovolcano would more likely be shooting out water, ice, ammonia or methane. In a press conference, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher with NASA's Ames Research Center Oliver White said the findings were “definitely weird” (awesome, right?) and noted that volcanoes look to be the most sensical explanation at this point.

Though we have a word to describe the phenomenon (cryovolcanism), Space notes this is still an extremely rare occurrence — to the point that the potential Pluto volcanoes mark the first time we’ve ever actually seen one. So, once we eventually develop warp drives, you can go ahead and add the ice volcanoes of Pluto to the Official Solar System Tour.


(Via Space)