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Pluto probe sees evidence of ice volcanoes

Image: Piccard Mons
A color-coded topographical map, based on New Horizons data, shows Piccard Mons on the surface of Pluto. The mountain’s structure suggests that it’s an ice volcano. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission say that at least a couple of the miles-high mountains on Pluto look as if they’re ice-belching volcanoes, providing further evidence that the dwarf planet is geologically active.

Although the case for cryovolcanoes isn’t yet rock-solid, it’s the “least weird explanation” for the observations of 2-mile-high Wright Mons and 3-5-mile-high Piccard Mons, said Oliver White of NASA’s Ames Research Center, a member of the mission’s geology team.

If the mountains’ status is confirmed, “that would be one of the most phenomenal discoveries of New Horizons,” White told reporters. “Whatever they are, they’re definitely weird.”

Image: Wright Mons
Like Piccard Mons, Wright Mons has a summit depression that suggests it’s an ice volcano on Pluto. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Pluto’s potential status as a volcanic world was just one of the revelations that came to light on Monday during a review of New Horizons’ latest discoveries at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Md.

“The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down,” Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release about the findings.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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