Its certain: Pluto isn’t a lonely, barren, ice wasteland scientists thought it was. In fact, there is evidence of a vast subsurface ocean which in turn raises the possibility of the existence of basic microbial life in the Kuiper Belt and beyond.
Thanks to a new model, researchers have revealed that the lack of cracks on the surface of Pluto’s icy region are conclusive evidence that the dwarf planet might have gigantic subsurface oceans. Interestingly, scientists have revealed that this raises the possibility of the existence of basic microbial life in the Kuiper Belt, n area where no one thought life could exist at all.
When NASA’s New Horizon Spacecraft flew by Pluto last year, it found signs that the dwarf Planet might have a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust.
Now, researchers from the Brown University reveal there is enough evidence to support this idea.
The study, which used a thermal evolution model of Pluto updated with data from the New Horizons, found that if the ocean Pluto had was frozen millions or billions of years, it would have caused the entire planet to shrink. However, there are no signs of a global contraction on the surface of the most famous member of the Kuiper Belt. However, the New Horizons probe has spotted signs that the dwarf planet has expanded.
Images from the New Horizons spacecraft showed that Pluto is much more than just a largish ice ball floating through space. In fact, the dwarf planet has a structure comprised of different types of exotic ice: water, nitrogen, and methane. Pluto also has mountains that reach hundreds of meters in height and a vast region in the form of a heart. The dwarf planet also has giant tectonic features: winding failures hundreds of kilometers long with a depth of 4 km. In fact, these Tectonic features have led scientists to believe there could be a giant subsurface ocean under the dwarf planet.
The study published in the Geophysical Research Letters offers conclusive evidence that Pluto has a partially frozen ocean underneath its crust. While the theory isn’t that new, the evidence which supports the theory is revolutionary.
“Our model shows that recent geological activity on Pluto can be driven just by phase changes in the ice—no tides or exotic materials or unusual processes are required,” lead study author Noah Hammond said.
The study points out a region called the Sputnik Planum. Nasa describes this area as a “craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes.” This area is located in the center part of Pluto’s famous ‘heart’, dubbed “Tombaugh Region” by astronomers.
Furthermore, scientists firmly state there may have been sufficient radioactive elements that produce heat within the rocky core of Pluto to melt some of the ice on the planet.
Over time, due to the conditions in the icy Kuiper belt, the ice would begin to freeze again over time.
Ice is less dense than water, so when it freezes, it expands. If Pluto had an ocean that was frozen or is in the freezing process, it would lead to extensional tectonics on the surface, and that’s what the New Horizons spacecraft just spotted.
According to astronomers, there aren’t really many other ways for Pluto to obtain such formations. One of them could have been through the gravitational pull of its moon, Charon. However, researchers state that active gravitational dynamics between the two ceased a long time ago, and some of the tectonic features on Pluto seem to be quite new –on a geological scale.
This is why many astronomers firmly believe there could be a vast ocean hiding under the ice crust of one of our solar system’s most awesome planets: Pluto.