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Research Bolsters Case for a Subsurface Ocean—and a Habitat for Life—on Pluto

Pluto_faults

Note: This is a press release from Brown University.

Looking Up  By Bob Eklund

Looking Up
By Bob Eklund

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft buzzed by Pluto last year, it revealed tantalizing clues that the dwarf planet might have—or had at one time—a liquid ocean sloshing around under its icy crust. According to a new analysis led by Brown University, such an ocean, which could be a possible habitat for life, likely still exists on Pluto today.

The study, which used a thermal evolution model for Pluto updated with data from New Horizons, found that if Pluto’s ocean had frozen into oblivion millions or billions of years ago, it would have caused the entire planet to shrink. But there are no signs of a global contraction to be found on Pluto’s surface. On the contrary, New Horizons showed signs that Pluto has been expanding.

“Thanks to the incredible data returned by New Horizons, we were able to observe tectonic features on Pluto’s surface, update our thermal evolution model with new data and infer that Pluto most likely has a subsurface ocean today,” said Noah Hammond, a graduate student in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, and the study’s lead author.

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