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New Evidence Supports Case of Pluto's Underground Oceans

Jun 27, 2016 05:10 AM EDT
New Horizons Nears July 14 Flyby Of Pluto
New evidences strengthens the theory that there could be liquid water forming vast oceans underneath the frozen surface of Pluto.
(Photo : NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI via Getty Images)

Could there really by oceans underneath the icy surface of Pluto? A new study supports the case that there could be vast oceans underneath the frozen surface of the planet. 

NASA's New Horizons mission had already revealed so much about Pluto. Data gathered enabled scientists and astronomers to further study and delve into the possibilities about Pluto, including the belief that there could be liquid water underneath the frozen Pluto surface.

Scientists initially believed that this is possible if the internal heat coming from Pluto's core is present, enabling water to stay in its liquid form, and if its true, life may potentially thrive on it as well. According to some experts, the liquid water underneath Pluto's surface in ammonia-rich. But new a new study suggests more evidence that this could be true.

"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," Noah Hammond graduate student in Brown University's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences said in a statement. He authored a study published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters.

His team updated the thermal model of Pluto based on New Horizons data. The fault lines and mountains of water ice were also included and according to the study, they are slowly expanding over time. Hammond predicts that a freezing "subsurface ocean" causes the expansion, strengthening the belief that there could be water underneath the frozen surface of the dwarf planet. 

The study also suggests that the slow decay of radioactive elements may have caused liquid water to remain in its state despite being too far away from the sun. Over time, the water may refreeze and cause the expansion.

"We now have half a dozen worlds, like (Saturn's moon) Enceladus, (Jupiter's moons) Europa and Ganymede, and now Pluto, that seem to have oceans in their interiors," New Horizons' lead scientist Dr. Alan Stern said in an interview with ABC News.

In addition, to support the case, Hammond and his team used a thermal evolution model using New Horizons data. And their finding is that if the water underneath Pluto's surface is frozen, it would show signs of contraction and not expansion.


Hammond said this finding is amazing and the possibility of vast ocean habitat on Pluto, farthest away from the Sun, is incredible. This study also strengthens the idea that life could thrive on Pluto if proven that the oceans underneath the surface remain liquid despite the distance from the Sun.


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