Mountain lake of frozen nitrogen spotted on Pluto's surface
Former planet Pluto has turned out to be much more weird and wonderful than many would have guessed, as reflected in the multitude of data and images sent back by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from its fly-by of the dwarf planet last July. The latest find from the many observations is what appears to be a lake of frozen liquid nitrogen nestled in Pluto's mountains.
"In addition to this possible former lake, we also see evidence of channels that may also have carried liquids in Pluto's past," said Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission.
The imaging system on New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) can capture details as small as around 430 feet (130 meters), leading NASA to estimate that the lake is about 20 miles (30 km) across at its widest point.
Scientists speculate that liquids may have flowed and pooled on Pluto's surface billions of years ago when atmospheric pressure and temperatures on the surface of the distant world were both higher than they are today.
New Horizons data has revealed Pluto to be surprisingly lively and in some ways, even an Earth-like place, with evidence of cryovolcanoes, mountain peaks capped with methane snow and "floating" hills, among other odd finds.