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.
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."
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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."