An Insulating Layer of Gas Could Keep a Liquid Ocean Inside Pluto

Universe Today | 5/23/2019 | Staff
JimmyJoe (Posted by) Level 3
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In July of 2015, NASA’s New Horizons mission made history by becoming the first spacecraft to ever conduct a flyby with Pluto. In addition to providing the world with the first up-close images of this distant world, New Horizons‘ suite of scientific instruments also provided scientists with a wealth of information about Pluto – including its surface features, composition, and atmosphere.

The images the spacecraft took of the surface also revealed unexpected features like the basin named Sputnik Planitia – which scientists saw as an indication of a subsurface ocean. In a new study led by researchers from the University of Hokkaido, the presence of a thin layer of clathrate hydrates at the base of Pluto’s ice shell would ensure that this world could support an ocean.

Findings - Study - Nature - Geosciences - Study

These findings were shared in a study recently published in Nature Geosciences. The study was led by Shunichi Kamata, a researcher from the Creative Research Institution at Hokkaido University, and included members from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the University of California Santa Cruz, Tokushima University, Osaka University, and Kobe University.

The bright “heart” on Pluto is located near the equator. Its left half is a big basin dubbed Sputnik Planitia. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Pluto - World

Is Pluto an “Ocean World“?

To break it down, the location and topography of Sputnik Planitia suggest that there is likely a subsurface ocean beneath Pluto’s crust, which is thinned around this basin. However, the existence of this ocean is inconsistent with the age of the dwarf planet, which is believed to have formed at about the same time as the other planets in the Solar System (between 4.46 and 4.6 billion years ago).

Time - Subsurface - Ocean - Surface - Ice

In that time, any subsurface ocean would surely have frozen and the inner surface of the ice shell facing the ocean would have flattened as...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Universe Today
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