According to experts, the ocean located inside Pluto could have a volume almost equivalent to that of Earth’s oceans” and is “potentially habitable”. However, proving whether or not this ocean can sustain life is something that will take a while.
You know Pluto, the favorite ex-planet in our solar system? Well, the little fella continues to amaze experts. Researchers have just found out some really interesting things about the dwarf planet. Images provided by the New Horizons Spacecraft suggest that Pluto holds as much water as Earth’s combined oceans.
“The fact that even cold, distant Pluto could have a subsurface ocean means that there are potential habitats even in apparently unpromising locations,” says Francis Nimmo, a New Horizons scientist based at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In 2015, NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft made history as it flew past Pluto closer than ever. Images provided by the New Horizons spacecraft showed –for the first time ever— what the surface of the dwarf planet was like. Covered in ice volcanoes and peculiarly shaped landscapes, Pluto gave us enough reasons to call it a planet again.
Now, two scientific studies which analyzed pluto’s heart-shaped feature suggest hat there is a MASSIVE ocean of liquid water hidden beneath the surface.
According to experts, billions of years ago Pluto was struck by a comet of about 200 kilometers in diameter, 20 times larger than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. The impact formed a huge crater that was filled with ice. Its accumulation, in addition to the gravitational effect of Charon, one of Pluto’s moons, ended up displacing the whole planet of its axis of rotation.
The Depression created by the collision, known as Sputnik Planitia, “was about 1,200 kilometers from its current situation,” explains James Keane, an astronomer at the University of Arizona and co-author of a study published in Nature detailing the phenomenon.
After the collision, the basin was filled with nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide ice for millions of years until it ended up reorienting Pluto to its moon.
Experts indicate that a massive ocean located beneath the icy crust of Pluto may have been one of the many reasons why Pluto rolled over so that Sputnik Planitia was always facing its moon- Charon.
“If you were to draw a line from the center of Pluto’s moon Charon through Pluto, it would come out on the other side, almost right through Sputnik Planitia. That line is what we call the tidal axis” said James Keane.
He further added: “If you have a perfectly spherical planet… and you stick a lump of extra mass on the side and let it spin, the planet will re-orient to move that extra mass closer to the equator. For bodies like Pluto that are tidally locked, it will move it toward that tidal axis – the one connecting Pluto and Charon.”
Nimmo explained that the ocean located beneath the surface of Pluto is most likely composed of liquid water, but may also contain ammonia which basically acts as an antifreeze, one of the main reasons why the ocean may still exist today.
“It would have a volume almost equivalent to that of the Earth’s oceans” and is “potentially habitable,” added Nimmo.
While there may be life hidden beneath the surface of Pluto, it will not be easy to prove. This massive ocean would be located under a massive ice cap of around 150 kilometers of thickness, much more than that in Enceladus and Europa, two moons with potentially liquid oceans.