Pluto Could Still Have A Liquid Ocean Underneath Its Surface, Says Study

Posted: Jun 22 2016, 12:51pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 23 2016, 10:06pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Pluto Could Still Have a Liquid Ocean Underneath its Surface, Says Study

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New Horizons' data suggested that Pluto might once have had liquid water underneath its icy crust but new analysis suggest that ocean likely still exists today

Pluto is an extremely cold world with a surface temperature of around 380 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. This is logically far too cold when it comes to maintaining liquid water on the surface of a planet.

When NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft reached the dwarf planet last year, it found clues that Pluto might once have had liquid water underneath its frozen crust which was possibly turned into ice over the course of millions or billions of years. But a new analysis suggests that Pluto could still have a liquid ocean flowing around under its surface.

"Thanks to the incredible data returned by New Horizons, we were able to observe tectonic features on Pluto's surface, update our thermal evolution model with new data and infer that Pluto most likely has a subsurface ocean today.” Researcher Noah Hammond from Brown University said.

New Horizon’s closer encounter with Pluto last year provided the most detailed observations of the planet to date. It revealed that the dwarf planet is more diverse than previously thought. The dwarf planet contains different types of ices – water, nitrogen and methane - which are evident in its icy volcanoes, vast plain and cracks and faults. These tectonic features reflect that Pluto is geologically active and is expanding. If it does not have subsurface ocean, the entire planet would have been shrunk.

"What New Horizons showed was that there are extensional tectonic features, which indicate that Pluto underwent a period of global expansion," said Hammond. "A subsurface ocean that was slowly freezing over would cause this kind of expansion."

Scientists suggest that the ocean is probably kept liquid by internal heat within the Pluto’s rocky core that is causing to melt some of planet’s ice shell. The melted portion will eventually start to refreeze and expand. It appears that Pluto is going through a phase of change and that is not something too unusual.

"Our model shows that recent geological activity on Pluto can be driven just from phase changes in the ice - no tides or exotic materials or unusual processes are required," said Hammon. "If Pluto's most recent tectonic episode is extentional, that means that Pluto may have an ocean at present.

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