Pluto may have liquid water oceans, suggests NASA study

Dec 2, 2017 11:20 IST
Pluto may have liquid water oceans, suggests NASA study

According to a new NASA study, some of the icy worlds outside our solar system including Pluto may have liquid water oceans beneath their surface.

The study, which was published in a journal titled - Icarus, stated that the heat generated by the gravitational pull of moons formed from massive collisions could extend the lifetimes of liquid water oceans beneath the surface of these large icy worlds.

These frigid worlds include Pluto and its moons and they are found beyond the orbit of Neptune. Known as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), the worlds are far too cold to have liquid water on their surfaces, where temperatures are below minus 200 degrees Celsius.

However, according to scientists, there is evidence that some may have layers of liquid water beneath their icy crusts. Speaking on the same, study co-author Wade Henning of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center stated that they have found that tidal heating can be a tipping point that may have preserved oceans of liquid water beneath the surface of large TNOs like Pluto and Eris to the present day.

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The team used the equations for tidal heating and calculated its contribution to the ‘heat budget’ for a wide variety of discovered and hypothetical Trans-Neptunian Objects-moon systems, including the Eris-Dysnomia system. Eris is second-largest known TNO after Pluto.

The researchers found that the gravitational interaction with a moon can generate enough heat inside a Trans-Neptunian Object to significantly extend the lifetime of a subsurface ocean.

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The finding greatly expands the number of locations where extraterrestrial life might be found, as liquid water is essential to support known forms of life.

Astronomers estimate there are dozens of such icy worlds.

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