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New Horizons discovered something that looks like a liquid ocean on Pluto. It seems that the small ex-planet still has a lot of secrets to reveal, and the spacecraft is still there to send information on Earth.
Scientists from Brown University and experts from the Planetary Science Institute took a look at the subsurface ocean from Pluto and found enough evidence to believe that the surface of the dwarf planet has the conditions to foster a liquid ocean.
The data collected by New Horizon shows long faults that are hundreds of miles long and that run deep into the surface of Pluto. These formations are similar to canyons and appeared after the planet’s crust expanded under the pressure of the subsurface ocean that froze and increased in volume.
The researchers used a new model of Pluto which was designed by the Brown University. The scientists presume that the water below the surface, under the force of an extreme pressure, could have created a compact crystal structure.
The ice II model assumes that crystallized water could consist of pieces in rhombohedral forms. The transformation of the water from under the surface of the planet would have then made the planet shrink, as the rhombohedral crystals arranged themselves in particular stratifications which led to a decrease in the volume of the water layer. The mentioned modifications brought along the surface shrinking that later caused the canyons.
However, the team of scientists did not find any evidence that Pluto had decreased in surface and volume as it should have under the ice II model. Thus, they started to revise the theory trying to find what assumption was incorrect.
While analyzing the model’s faults, the scientists came to the conclusion that the ice underneath Pluto’s surface was not created as it shows in the previous theoretic form. While making simulations on the ice II model, they discovered that the ice thickness would have needed to be 160 miles in depth, which was contradicted by other data collected by the space observatory.
The new model shows that the surface solid layer should have been at least 190 miles thick in order to exert enough force to create the underneath water freeze.
The scientists are also inclined to believe that the internal layers of the dwarf planet may be hotter than initially thought. This possibility is introduced by the fact that Pluto’s tidal stress is substantially high. Moreover, the scientists found evidence of radioactive decay that could also signify higher temperatures under the surface.
The new model is important because it may be used to predict the presence of an underground liquid ocean in other Kuiper Belt objects, which may be significant for further space explorations.
Image Source: Wikipedia