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Frozen lake on Pluto not ideal for ice skating

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft snaps a photo of what may be a scenic frozen lake on Pluto. The image hints at flowing liquids in the dwarf planet's distant past.

This could be a frozen lake on Pluto.


The more we learn about Pluto, the more bonkers the dwarf planet seems to get. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft buzzed Pluto in 2015, but the craft is still sending back images and data from its close encounter. So far, NASA has revealed methane snow, a possible ice volcano and some icy lava lamp-style action occurring in an area called Sputnik Planum.

The latest find from the New Horizons stash is a surprisingly scenic frozen lake. But this isn't the sort of place where Henry David Thoreau would hang out to write poetry. NASA says the feature "appears to be a frozen, former lake of liquid nitrogen, located in a mountain range."

The image, released Thursday, comes from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, an instrument responsible for some of the craft's best close-up views. NASA notes the possible lake is 20 miles (about 30 kilometers) across at its widest point.

You may be tempted to get your ice skates out of the closet and book the next flight to Pluto to practice your triple Axel and toe loops, but the dwarf planet is not a very hospitable place these days. According to NASA, the temperature on Pluto's surface temperature is around -375 degrees Fahrenheit (about -230 degrees Celsius).

Pluto may not always have been so icy. NASA scientists see the lake as possible evidence of a time in the dwarf planet's distant past (millions or billions of years ago) when "liquids might have flowed across and pooled on the surface of the distant world." This would have been an era in the dwarf planet's history when surface conditions were much warmer than they are now.

New Horizons launched on its trip to Pluto in 2006. It could get a mission extension that would send it deeper into the Kuiper Belt to investigate other icy objects in the area.