Researchers discover Pluto to have oceans, otherwise considered fully frozen

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pluto new horizon
Pluto as captured by NASA's New Horizon after its closest approach to the planet. (Credits - NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Pluto, the ninth planet in our solar system has always been a planet of interest to many scholars and scientists. The existence of Pluto as a planet was a topic of debate in the higher circles of the researchers. Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 and it was originally considered to be the ninth planet in our solar system. It was declared a heavenly body and not a planet due to its small size compared to others.

It was thought that the temperature required to maintain a liquid temperature on Pluto was too high but the thick ice has not melted. A new breakthrough occurred recently when Japanese astronomers found a new possibility that suggested a layer of gas between the ice and liquid which allowed both to coexist in nature.

Sputnik platina which was under the New Horizons probe detected a gravitational anomaly which suggests that there is a frozen ocean underneath. It could also explain its age, tectonic plates and other geographical features. The report has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience. In the paper, scientists mentioned that to maintain a liquid Ocean Pluto has to retain heat inside it and that it’s ice shell has to be cold.

The team suggested a hypothesis where they mentioned a gas-hydrate layer, an ice-like form of water and gas trapped within its lattice also called clathrate. A clathrate hydrate gas explains the long term survival of the ocean and shell thickness. Researchers have simulated conditions on Pluto with and without hydrate gas and modelled the thermal evaluation of the dwarf planet and how long would it take for the oceans to freeze completely and to form a uniformly thick layer of shell ice.

According to the simulations, without the gas hydrate layer, the oceans would freeze within 800 million years when animals were starting to evolve on earth. But when a gas hydrate layer was present it showed that oceans ceased to freeze. It acts as a thermal insulator while keeping the ice shell cold.

The most suitable gas for gas clathrate would be methane, making it a reserve of what we know on Earth as flammable ice. The methane is derived from precursor bodies and organic material from the core of the planet. The simulations, however, does not support the observations by New Horizons and demonstrates how liquid oceans can even exist on the iciest planets. This is just another example which supports the diversity and vastness of our solar system.

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