Icebergs have been discovered on Pluto, NASA confirmed on Thursday. Scientists were able to analyze data and images that were returned by the New Horizons spacecraft, which led them to the revelation that Pluto has icebergs.
According to the Verge, Pluto’s iceberg formations span several miles across and have been spotted traveling across the region of Pluto known as Sputnik Planum. The New Horizons scientists have reason to believe these small icebergs are less mature versions of nearby mountains on Pluto.
— The Verge (@verge) February 4, 2016
A scientist from the New Horizons team reported in an update, “The hills are likely fragments of the rugged uplands that have broken away and are being carried by the nitrogen glaciers into Sputnik Planum.”
Discovery News reports that Pluto’s icebergs are hill-sized. Unlike Earth’s oceans which are made of water, Pluto’s ocean is made of nitrogen. Because Pluto’s oceans are made of nitrogen ice, the icebergs made of water ice float in a way that’s dissimilar to most of the icebergs on earth, but similar to the way icebergs travel across the Arctic Ocean over time.
The NY Daily News reports that the largest collection of iceberg hills on Pluto measures 22 by 37 miles. Ironically enough, the icebergs were discovered in an area that scientists earlier this year called a “lava lamp.”
New Horizons scientist William McKinnon talked more about the nitrogen “oceans” and “lava lamps” on Pluto. “This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp; if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as – and even deeper than – the Hudson Bay,” he explained.
The Pluto iceberg discovery is only the latest in scientific news updates concerning the former planet, and Pluto has become quite the topic of debate for both scientists and alien enthusiasts alike.
NASA recently released questionable-looking photographs from the New Horizon mission that were taken of Pluto last July. Some people have labeled the unknown objects in the photo as an “alien snail.” The image was published on January 7 by NASA and immediately garnered attention from alien and UFO enthusiasts.
Although the presence of snail-like alien life on Pluto is still a topic of debate, NASA immediately moved to discredit the theory. When the photo was released, scientists argued that the unknown object in the photo was most likely a “dirty iceberg,” which could be even further supported by today’s news that there are icebergs on the surface of Pluto.
We may soon see even more interesting discoveries about the surface of Pluto, as the New Horizons spacecraft continues to send back more photos. Through the in-depth photos that have been sent back, scientists have also learned that to the west of Sputnik Planum, there’s an area filled with crater rims and flow areas, which are coated in a red dust. The red color in the dust is believed to come from molecules that form as sunlight reacts with nitrogen and methane.
It’s been an interesting year for Pluto, and people look forward to finding out more about the icebergs and anything else that may be on its surface, thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft and its surprisingly detailed photos.
[Photo credit: Getty Images/Ron Miller]