Gas insulation could be protecting an ocean inside Pluto

ScienceDaily | 5/20/2019 | Staff
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Computer simulations provide compelling evidence that an insulating layer of gas hydrates could keep a subsurface ocean from freezing beneath Pluto's icy exterior, according to a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

In July 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew through Pluto's system, providing the first-ever close-up images of this distant dwarf planet and its moons. The images showed Pluto's unexpected topography, including a white-colored ellipsoidal basin named Sputnik Planitia, located near the equator and roughly the size of Texas.

Location - Topography - Scientists - Subsurface - Ice

Because of its location and topography, scientists believe a subsurface ocean exists beneath the ice shell which is thinned at Sputnik Planitia. However, these observations are contradictory to the age of the dwarf planet because the ocean should have frozen a long time ago and the inner surface of the ice shell facing the ocean should have also been flattened.

Researchers at Japan's Hokkaido University, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokushima University, Osaka University, Kobe University, and at the University of California, Santa Cruz, considered what could keep the subsurface ocean warm while keeping the ice shell's inner surface frozen and uneven on Pluto. The team hypothesized that an "insulating layer" of gas hydrates exists beneath the icy surface of Sputnik Planitia. Gas hydrates are crystalline ice-like solids formed of gas trapped within molecular water cages. They are highly viscous, have low thermal conductivity, and could therefore provide insulating properties.

Researchers - Computer - Simulations - Timescale - Years

The researchers conducted computer simulations covering a timescale of 4.6 billion years, when the solar...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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