There are some truly amazing things that we’ve found in space. Last month, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent back images that revealed that Pluto was home to the Wright Mons cryovolcano. Now, scientists have determined from images taken by the very same craft that Pluto’s surface also contains enormous icebergs, spanning several miles of a region of the planet now known as Sputnik Planium.
The large floating ice hills discovered by NASA scientists are believed to be smaller parts of Pluto’s rugged icy uplands that have broken away. After breaking free, the water ice hills are carried into the nitrogen glaciers of Sputnik Planium on flowing seas of liquid nitrogen due to the water icebergs being less dense than the nitrogen-based ice. The floating hills follow the flow paths of the glaciers into the center of Sputnik Planium where they become subject to the convection forces of the nitrogen ice and pushed towards the shores of the nitrogen cells where they cluster together. These clusters of floating hills can reach up to 12 miles across with a feature named Challenger Colles seeming to be an extremely large collection of the hills, measuring 37 by 22 miles. Located away from the cellular terrain, the hills appear to have beached on the shallow shores of the nitrogen ice.
It is discoveries like this that show the true worth of space exploration, as we seek to understand more of the universe we live in. We may never get to see these amazing environmental features up close and in person during our lifetimes, but it is amazing to think of what else could be out there just waiting for us to discover.