Is Pluto Hiding A Liquid Ocean Beneath Its Icy Surface?
Pluto may be hiding a liquid ocean underneath its icy crust, according to new high-resolution images taken from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.
According to a new study from Brown University, it is likely that the subsurface ocean on Pluto is still there - despite suggestions that it may have dried up, writes Nature World News.
Scientists created a computer model simulation to project the evolution of the blue planet using the images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft in order to determine whether the ocean was still present on Pluto.
The results from the computer simulation suggest that the planet would have become significantly smaller if the liquid ocean was no longer present. However, scientists have not detected any signs that the planet is becoming smaller. This led scientists to conclude that Pluto's liquid ocean still exists under its surface.
The data collected from the simulation shows that the planet is actually doing the opposite - expanding rather than contracting.
"We don't see the things on the surface we'd expect if there had been a global contraction. So we conclude that ice has not formed, and therefore that the ocean hasn't completely frozen," Noah Hammond, lead author and a graduate student in Brown's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, said in a press release.
The simulation of Pluto's evolution has been called the thermal evolution model. The data collected from the simulation suggests that a distinctive type of ice with reduced volume would be present in the ocean. The unique ice would feature a thick icy shell and contain nitrogen and methane, which would act to retain heat within the planet, suggest the scientists.
Hammon added, "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."
The recent findings also suggest that there is the potential for other planets or bodies in space that exist a long distance from the Sun to harbor liquid oceans, Hammon added.
The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.