US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The images of the New Horizons probe showed that in the first epochs of its existence it was warm enough so that an ocean of liquid water could exist on its surface. The results of the study, as a result of which planetologists reached this conclusion, were published by the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.
“We have been thinking for a long time about how the thermal evolution of Pluto took place and how the ocean in its depths could survive to this day. The images of the planet’s surface obtained by the New Horizons probe helped us verify the predictions of various theoretical models that described this process,” said one of the authors of the work, professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
The New Horizons probe, created by a team of engineers and planetologists led by Alan Stern, left Earth in January 2006. In mid-July 2015, he reached the vicinity of Pluto, flying just 13 thousand kilometers from it and receiving many photographs of its surface. Thanks to these images, humanity first saw the famous “heart” of Pluto – the Sputnik Plain, as well as traces of ice rivers and volcanoes.
New Horizons data pointed to an even more interesting feature of Pluto – in its bowels a gigantic subglacial ocean may hide from liquid water. It is she who drives those geological processes that can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. This discovery of New Horizons generated a lot of controversy and discussion among planetologists who are trying to understand how such a structure could arise, as well as find out how Pluto looked in the distant past.
Stern, Nimmo and their colleague Carver Birson, another planetary scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, came close to answering this question. They compared the data from the cameras and tools of New Horizons with the calculation results, which were based on different models of formation and structure of the bowels of this dwarf planet.
Many scientists believe that Pluto was originally “cold.” In this case, this means that it was formed from relatively cold reserves of ice and dust, which subsequently warmed up as a result of the decay of radioactive substances in the bowels of Pluto and its gravitational interactions with Charon. Thanks to this, several hundred million years after the formation of the dwarf planet, an ocean formed inside.
Other planetologists believe that Pluto in the first instants of its existence was a warm planet, and its surface was covered by the ocean and the atmosphere of nitrogen and hydrocarbons. Subsequently, temperatures fell, most of the water and other volatile substances froze, and a liquid layer formed that separates the ice shell of Pluto from its rocky core.
“If Pluto was originally cold, then its surface should have shrunk. Traces of this process should have remained on its surface. Otherwise, it would have to expand after its ocean began to freeze, due to which other geological traces should have formed “We found a lot of evidence in favor of the expansion of Pluto’s bowels and no hint that they have ever shrunk,” Birson said.
Such a discovery came as a surprise to Stern and his colleagues, since it means that Pluto formed either very quickly, or that it received a large amount of energy from outside. In particular, scientists suggest that its source could be the fall of large asteroids, with which the ancestor of Pluto could encounter in the first epochs of his life.
If this was true, then other large dwarf planets on the outskirts of the solar system, including Makemake and Eris, formed in a similar way. Their study, as scientists hope, will help test this theory and understand whether life can exist in the icy oceans on planets so far from the Sun.
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