By Victoria Jaggard, SMITHSONIAN.COM, Nov. 10, 2015 – Colorful, craggy and decorated with a heart, Pluto has been flaunting its weirdness since it first came into focus in July. Now planetary scientists can add ice volcanoes to the tiny world’s growing list of unexpected quirks.
Two mountains near the southern edge of the heart-shaped plains on Pluto appear to be volcanoes that once spewed a slurry of ices onto the surface. These so-called cryovolcanoes support the notion that cold, tiny Pluto is a far more active world than previously thought.
One icy peak, informally named Wright Mons, stands about two miles high. The other, Piccard Mons, is 3.5 miles high. Both are about 100 miles wide and have definite depressions at their tops. According to the team, the formations look a lot like shield volcanoes, akin to the Hawaiian island chain on Earth and Olympus Mons on Mars.
“We see nothing of this scale with a summit depression anywhere else in the outer solar system,” Oliver White, a scientist with NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, said today during a press briefing. “Whatever they are, they are definitely weird, and volcanoes may be the least weird hypothesis at the moment.”