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Pluto could host an ocean of water beneath its surface

Pluto could host an ocean of water beneath its surface

Pluto was no longer considered a planet 17 years ago (NASA)

Pluto was for a long time considered the ninth planet in our solar system. but In 2006 This frozen world is approaching the limits of our sun’s heat, It is no longer considered a planet by the International Astronomical Union He opened a new category of science: Minor planets.

Scientists know this Pluto’s surface is very cold, So it is unlikely that life exists there. At these cold temperatures, water, which is vital to life as we know it, appears essentially rocky. However, Pluto’s interior is much warmer and some believe there could be an ocean inside it.

Pluto’s diameter is approximately equatorial 2377 km. That is, it is approximately equal to 1/5 of the Earth’s width. From an average distance of about 5.9 billion kilometers, Pluto is about 39 times farther from Earth than from the Sun. From this distance, it takes 5.5 hours for sunlight to travel from the Sun to Pluto.

This is what the Sun looks like from Pluto

The study published in magazine Icarus It showed that the dwarf planet, which has a thin atmosphere composed mainly of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide, could have liquid inside.

That’s why the doctor Alex NguyenSpecialist in earth, environmental and planetary sciences at the University of Washington and Patrick McGovern The Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston recently conducted an investigation where they reported that there is an ocean of water in a liquid state beneath the surface of Pluto.

This claim can be made using mathematical models that can prove the presence of liquid beneath its surface, after NASA scientists analyzed cracks and bulges in the basin’s ice. Sputnik Planitia Pluto.

Polygonal structures on Sputnik Planitia. Sublimation cooling is the engine that shapes the dramatic polygonal landscape of hydrogen ice sheets characteristic of Pluto’s large crater called Sputnik Planitia (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

The basis of the study was the visit he made The National Center for Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) when the mission was launched New Horizons on January 19, 2006, An unmanned probe was intended to fly over it Pluto To take photographs, measurements and studies of the solar system.

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The first images were obtained seven years later and in 2015 it recorded its closest approach after its passage Only 12,500 kilometers from the dwarf planet To get a closer look at the ocean that likely covers the planet under a thick layer of nitrogen, methane and water ice.

The probe was also measured The planet’s surface temperature is about -232 degrees Celsius, A temperature so cold that even gases like nitrogen and methane freeze. Therefore, water should not have any possibility of being in a liquid state.

Pluto’s mountains are covered in snow, but not for the same reasons as those on Earth, as detailed in a new survey of data from the New Horizons mission (NASA/JHUAPL).

“Pluto is a small object. It should have lost almost all of its heat shortly after its formation, “Basic calculations suggest they are frozen to the core,” said Nguyen, who is conducting doctoral research at the University of California, California. University of Washington As an Olin Chancellor’s Fellow and a Graduate Research Fellow at the National Science Foundation.

But in recent years, prominent scholars, incl William B. McKinnon, The Arts & Sciences professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences has collected evidence suggesting that Pluto likely contains an ocean of liquid water beneath the ice. This conclusion came from several pieces of evidence, including Pluto’s cryovolcanoes, which spew ice and water vapor. Although there is still some controversy, “It is now generally accepted that Pluto has an ocean.” Nguyen said.

A new study explores the oceans in more detail, even if they are too deep under the ice for scientists to see. Nguyen and McGovern created mathematical models to explain cracks and bulges in the ice covering Sputnik’s Platina Basin on Pluto. The site of a meteorite impact billions of years ago. Their calculations indicate that the ocean in this region lies beneath a layer of water ice 40 to 80 kilometers thick, a protective layer that likely prevents the inner ocean from freezing.

Image of Pluto and its outline illuminated by the Sun (AP)

They also calculated the potential density or Ocean salinity Based on the fractures in the ice above. They estimate that Pluto’s ocean is, at most, about 8 percent denser than seawater on Earth, or about the same density as the Great Salt Lake in Utah. If you could somehow reach Pluto’s ocean, you could float effortlessly.

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As Nguyen explained, This level of density would explain the abundance of fractures observed on the surface. If the ocean were significantly less dense, the ice sheet would collapse, creating much more cracks than actually observed. If the ocean were denser, there would be fewer fractures. “We’re sort of appreciating a Goldilocks zone where the layer density and thickness are just right,” he said.

Image provided by NASA showing Pluto (right) and Charon, the largest of its five moons (EFE)

Space agencies have no plans to return to Pluto anytime soon, so many of its mysteries will remain for future generations of researchers. Whether it’s called a planet, a planet or just one of many objects at the far reaches of the solar system, it’s worth studying, Nguyen said. “From my perspective, it’s a planet.”

Pluto orbits five known moons, the largest of which is… SharonIt is about half the size of Pluto itself, making it the largest satellite relative to the planet it orbits in our solar system. This is why Pluto and Charon are often named “double planets”.