Pluto probably has a subsurface ocean and is habitable

(ORDO NEWS) — Pluto. One of the most amazing objects in the solar system, which in 2006 was unfairly shifted from the position of the ninth planet to a dwarf planet.

Fortunately, these manipulations with concepts do not affect the internal structure of Pluto, under the surface of which there may be an ocean of liquid water.

Given the distance from the parent star and the size of the object, the hypothesis put forward may seem incredible, but…

Pluto’s subsurface ocean

According to the study, Pluto began as a hot world that was born extremely violently and quickly.

As a result, Pluto became the owner of a subsurface ocean that could have survived to this day and probably even become home to primitive extraterrestrial life.

Early studies suggested that Pluto appeared about 4.6 billion years ago as a result of the slow “sticking together” of ice rocks in the distant Kuiper belt, a region beyond the orbit of Neptune.

However, NASA‘s New Horizons spacecraft , which flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, provided circumstantial evidence for a liquid ocean hiding under a thick shell of ice.

Pluto probably has a subsurface ocean and is habitable 2
Jagged icy coastlines and mysterious snow pits

“Looking at Pluto today, we see a very cold frozen object with a surface temperature of about 45 kelvins [-228 degrees Celsius],” says Carver Birson, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz and lead author of the study.

“By studying the geological history recorded on the surface of Pluto, we can conclude that it formed extremely quickly and violently, which caused the interior to heat up enough to form a subsurface ocean.”

Stretch features

As part of the study, the so-called “stretch features” on Pluto’s surface were analyzed. As you know, water expands when it freezes, and when Pluto’s “innards” cooled down after the initial heating (during rapid formation), its surface stretched, and recognizable structures appeared on it.

If Pluto had a cold start, then its frozen shell would contract early in history when heat from radioactive elements melted the ice, and then expand after the radioactive elements decayed and Pluto cooled.

However, the observation of the most ancient parts of the surface of Pluto, implemented as part of the New Horizons mission, did not reveal signs of compression.

If Pluto formed quickly and violently, then the heat from the colliding rocks would have died out relatively quickly, leading to the rapid growth of the ice shell (recall, water expands when it freezes) in the early history of the dwarf planet.

The stretch then stopped when the heat of radioactive decay became the main factor, and resumed when the decay stopped, slowly creating extended structures.

It’s these stretching features that planetary scientists have observed on Pluto’s icy surface such as deep cracks and a mysterious system of ridges and troughs that suggest Pluto did have a hot start after all.

Pluto probably has a subsurface ocean and is habitable 3
Strange snake skin terrain

During the evolution of Pluto, the ocean, reliably protected from critically low temperatures outside, has become a more stable formation, which continues to receive the heat of radioactive decay.

“My guess is that the most exciting implication is that subsurface oceans may have been common among large Kuiper belt objects when they formed,” Birson added.

If the authors of the study are correct, then there is a possibility that other large dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt, such as Eris, Makemake and Haumea, could have had subsurface oceans since their formation – and still have them to this day.

From this it follows that these little-studied worlds can be considered potentially habitable.

“To date, we don’t know the exact ingredients or recipes needed to create life anywhere,” says Birson.

“However, we believe that liquid water is an important component, and our study suggests that Pluto has it in abundance.”

It is worth noting that the New Horizons probe only provided high-resolution images of about half of Pluto’s northern hemisphere.

Probably, scientists simply do not know about the existence of an ancient area on which large-scale compression has been recorded.

In order to test the hypothesis described above, humanity needs to send an apparatus into the orbit of Pluto, which will make a detailed map of the surface. It will probably even happen in our lifetime.


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