NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which visited Pluto nearly a decade ago, continues to unveil the dwarf planet’s astonishing complexity. Recently, scientists have been examining data regarding an unusual crater located near the bright, heart-shaped region called Sputnik Planitia.
They believe that they may have discovered a supervolcano that erupted as recently as a few million years ago. While this might seem like a long time, it is a relatively recent event considering the solar system’s age of over 4.5 billion years.
The 44-km-wide Kiladze crater is thought to have experienced cryovolcanism, a process in which ice lava spewed onto Pluto’s surface. This process, also found on the moons of gas giants within our solar system, is believed to have resulted from water emerging from Pluto’s hidden subsurface ocean over millions of years.
Evidence of this recent volcanic activity indicates that there may be more heat remaining within the dwarf planet’s interior than previously believed. As scientists continue to study New Horizons’ images and data, further revelations about Pluto’s subsurface ocean, geologic features, and potential heat sources are expected.