Volcanoes on Icy Pluto: A New Study Reveals the Possibility of Liquid Water

A recent study has uncovered fascinating evidence suggesting that icy Pluto may be home to volcanoes that spout liquid water.

The presence of ammonia in the reddish ice on Pluto’s surface indicates the occurrence of recent geological activity on this dwarf planet.

Similar to molten lava on Earth, liquid water is believed to be spewing out from the depths of Pluto, according to the findings of this study.

These remarkable discoveries hint at the potential for Pluto to possess features that could support the evolution of life.

Pluto on a black background

Unveiling the Evidence from NASA’s New Horizons Probe

The study was conducted by analyzing the data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons probe during its flyby of Pluto in 2015. Within this data, researchers found indications of ammonia on Pluto’s surface, particularly in areas that previous studies had suggested experienced tectonic activity. Cristina Dalle Ore, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and the lead author of the study, described the significance of the discovery as follows:

“In recent years, ammonia has been a bit like the ‘holy grail’ of planetary science. It is a key ingredient in chemical reactions underlying life as we know it, and therefore, when found, it flags [the presence of] an environment that is conducive to life. This does not mean that life is present—and we have not yet found it—but it indicates a place where we should look.”

Ammonia is a delicate molecule that can be destroyed by ultraviolet irradiation and cosmic rays. Therefore, its presence on Pluto’s surface implies that it must have been recently placed there, just a few million years before its discovery.

The Significance of Ammonia in the Search for Life

Ammonia’s role as a key ingredient in chemical reactions essential for life makes it a crucial focus of planetary science. Its presence in an environment suggests the potential for life to thrive in that particular setting. While the discovery of ammonia on Pluto does not confirm the existence of life, it does highlight the possibility of favorable conditions for life to emerge.

Scientists have long been intrigued by the search for environments that could support life beyond Earth. Ammonia, with its ability to participate in important chemical reactions, serves as a beacon for researchers, guiding them toward locations where life may have a higher chance of evolving.

The Fragility of Ammonia and its Implications

Ammonia, as a fragile molecule, is easily destroyed by ultraviolet irradiation and cosmic rays. Therefore, its presence on Pluto’s surface indicates that it must have been recently deposited there. This timeframe, of a few million years, suggests that geological activity on Pluto is relatively recent.

The existence of geological activity, such as the eruption of liquid water from Pluto’s depths, raises intriguing questions about the dynamics of this icy dwarf planet. The presence of volcanic activity implies the presence of internal heat sources, which could be responsible for maintaining the liquid state of water beneath Pluto’s icy surface.

Understanding the mechanisms behind this geological activity is crucial for comprehending the potential habitability of Pluto. By studying the conditions that give rise to such activity, scientists can gain insights into the factors that contribute to the evolution of life in extreme environments.

Exploring Pluto’s Potential for Life

While the discovery of ammonia on Pluto is an exciting development, it is important to note that it does not guarantee the presence of life. However, it does indicate that the conditions necessary for life to exist may be present on this distant dwarf planet.

Future missions and explorations will be essential in unraveling the mysteries of Pluto and its potential for harboring life. By delving deeper into the geological activity and composition of Pluto, scientists can gather more evidence to support or refute the possibility of life in this icy world.

Furthermore, the discovery of ammonia on Pluto emphasizes the significance of exploring other celestial bodies in our solar system and beyond.

It reinforces the idea that life may not be exclusive to Earth and that the ingredients necessary for life could exist in unexpected places.

The recent study revealing the possibility of volcanoes spouting liquid water on icy Pluto has opened up new avenues of exploration and speculation.

The presence of ammonia on Pluto’s surface suggests recent geological activity and the potential for favorable conditions for the evolution of life.

While the existence of life on Pluto is yet to be confirmed, the discovery of ammonia serves as a promising indicator of environments that could support life as we know it.

Further research and missions will be instrumental in unraveling the mysteries of this distant dwarf planet and shedding light on the potential for life beyond Earth.


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