Pluto might have a liquid ocean

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Pluto May Have An Existing Subsurface Ocean

When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft went by Pluto last year, it revealed that the dwarf planet may have once been home to a liquid ocean underneath its ice crust. A new analysis suggests that the ocean still exists today.

The study used a thermal evolution model of Pluto updated with the New Horizons' data. It showed that if the planet's oceans froze millions or billions of years ago, Pluto itself would shrink as a result. That is not the case, however; it is actually expanding.

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Noah Hammond, a Ph.D candidate in Brown University's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, and the study's lead author, credits New Horizons for the findings.

He said, "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."

What suggests to Hammond and his team that the ocean can still exist is that here is no formation of ice from when the water would freeze; those on study named the hypothetical formation "ice II."

RELATED: New close-up views of Pluto

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New close-up views of Pluto
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New close-up views of Pluto
An enhanced color view showing Pluto?s surface diversity is seen in a mosaic created by merging Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera color imagery with Long Range Reconnaissance Imager panchromatic imagery from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. The most detailed look at Pluto's surface to date has revealed an unexpected range of mountains, glacial flows, smooth plains and other landscapes, according to studies released on Thursday. REUTERS/NASA/New Horizons/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Haze layers above the dwarf planet Pluto are seen in an undated image taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft and released March 17, 2016. About 20 haze layers are seen; the layers have been found to typically extend horizontally over hundreds of kilometers, but are not strictly parallel to the surface, according to a NASA news release. REUTERSNASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
This NASA's photo of Pluto was made from four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with color data from the Ralph instrument in this enhanced color global view released on July 24, 2015. The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers). REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
The bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa on the dwarf planet Pluto is seen in an undated image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Pluto's icy cratered plains, including layering in the interior walls of many craters, are seen in this high-resolution image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft released December 4, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Blocks of Pluto's water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains in this high-resolution image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft released December 4, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A false color image of the planet Pluto using a technique called principal component analysis to highlight the color differences between Pluto's distinct regions is seen in this picture produced by New Horizons scientists released by NASA November 12, 2015. The image data were collected by the New Horizons' Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14, 2015, from a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers). REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A close-up view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains on Pluto is seen in an image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft taken July 14, 2015 and released September 17, 2015. The expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum (R) is flanked to the west (L) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters
NASA's image shows numerous isolated hills that may be fragments of water ice from Pluto's surrounding uplands appears to be carried by the nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto in this image released on February 4, 2016. These hills individually measure one to several miles or kilometers across, according to images and data from NASA's New Horizons mission. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout
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"Since the tectonic features on Pluto's surface are all extensional and there is no obvious compressional features, it suggests that ice II has not formed and that therefore, Pluto's subsurface ocean has likely survived to present day," Hammond explained.

If his model is correct, it's possible that there are oceans throughout Pluto-- which then opens up the potential for life.

"That's amazing to me," said Hammond. "The possibility that you could have vast liquid water ocean habitats so far from the sun on Pluto...is absolutely incredible."

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