What was once considered to be the ninth planet of the solar system may hold the most prominent signs yet of life outside of Earth with the recent announcement that ice volcanoes exist on the surface of Pluto.
A study published in the journal Nature Communications recently revealed scientists’ newest theory about the features on the dwarf planet.
Imagery from the New Horizons spacecraft show ice volcanoes located on several areas of the planet where temperatures are thought to average -387 °F.
"Similar features do not exist anywhere else in the imaged solar system," study authors wrote.
The study suggests Pluto’s core was hot enough to pump liquid out of the volcanoes before the substance turned to ice in the atmosphere dominated by nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide.
"Rather than erosion or other geologic processes, cryovolcanic activity appears to have extruded large amounts of material onto Pluto’s exterior and resurfaced an entire region of the hemisphere New Horizons saw up close," Dr. Kelsi Singer, New Horizons deputy project scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, stated.
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Scientists aren’t sure how long the volcanoes have been on the planet but did state they are on the younger side of Pluto’s life span, which could date back 4 billion years.
The team at Texas’ Southwest Research Institute who led the research said some of the volcanoes rival those found in Hawaii.
"One of the benefits of exploring new places in the solar system is that we find things we weren’t expecting," Singer stated. "These giant, strange-looking cryovolcanoes observed by New Horizons are a great example of how we are expanding our knowledge of volcanic processes and geologic activity on icy worlds."
It will likely be several decades before the next spacecraft is launched to further investigate Pluto and the outer Solar System.
A NASA mission concept study lists the timeline of launching the next orbiter around 2031 with arrival to Pluto in 2058.