U.S. scientists analyzed images from NASA’s New Horizons and concluded that the ocean lurking beneath Pluto’s surface may be as old as Pluto itself and more than 150 kilometers thick, Newsweek reported. Liquid water may be common at the edge of the solar system, according to the study.
In 2015, New Horizons discovered that although Pluto is about 6 billion kilometers from the sun, it may have a sea of liquid water under its icy crust. But when will this ocean appear? How much liquid is available? How much liquid is frozen? It has always been an open mystery.
A team led by planetary scientist Kave Billson at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has found the answer: The dwarf planet has had an underground ocean that could envelop and interact with Pluto’s rocky core, shortly after Pluto’s formation 4.5 billion years ago.
If the study proves that the oceans may be common at the edge of the solar system and may even sustain life, it could “change our understanding of the Kuiper Belt,” said Aiden Denton, a planetary scientist at Purdue University.
Bilson had assumed that Pluto’s potential oceans were in two situations: if Pluto was cold at first, any groundwater would be frozen first, then melted by the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements in its core, and some of the liquid would be frozen over time. In this case, Pluto shrinks as the ice melts and then expands as the water freezes again, so cracks and faults should appear on its shell. If Pluto were warm at first, the ocean would have been flowing for almost the entire life of Pluto. In this case, the surface will show only cracks due to partial freezing of the sea water.
What the team found belonged to the latter. “This means that Pluto is starting to be warmer, and maybe it was born with an ocean,” Billson said. “