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From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons | NASA

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

via From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons | NASA.

We find new mysteries to solve with nearly every space probe we send out and New Horizons is no exception. Pluto and its largest moon Charon have large smooth areas. A smooth area is interpreted as a young surface because throughout the Solar System’s history there were asteroids and comets that slammed into planet (yes, even dwarf planet) sized objects. We don’t notice many of these marks on Earth because we have wind, water, volcanic activity and tectonic plate activity to wipe out all but the largest craters in a very short time, geologically speaking. But look at the Moon with modest modification and you’ll get a sense of how many rocks have hit it over the years. The Moon has craters within craters with a few exceptions. That’s because it has no water or atmosphere to smooth things over.

Earth is geological activity because it is large enough to produce its own heat. The moon is not. Pluto and Charon are much smaller than the Moon and they shouldn’t be able to heat themselves either. There are smallish moons around Jupiter and Saturn that have water volcanoes. In these cases, tidal interactions with their giant primaries heat the interior, which drive geologic activity. Though we had no idea this could happen before the Voyager space probes.

After Voyager, we figured we had covered all the ways that a body could stay geologically active. New Horizons has proved us wrong. Again. I hope it returns enough data for us to put together a reasonable explanation, because it will be a long, long time before any probe goes to Pluto again. None are planned and it takes nearly a decade to get there.

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