Pluto may have been a warmer body when it was formed 4.5 billion years ago

WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Updated: Jun 23, 2020, 04:21 PM(IST)

This NASA image obtained March 18, 2016 shows haze layers above Pluto’s limb, taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft Photograph:( AFP )

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took images of the dwarf planet’s surface in 2015, which led researchers to believe that the planet had a “hot start” 4.5 billion years ago

Pluto, a dwarf planet which was formerly known as the ninth planet in our solar system may have a subsurface ocean owing to its initial warm temperatures, researches posited on Monday.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took images of the dwarf planet’s surface in 2015, which led researchers to believe that the planet had a “hot start” 4.5 billion years ago, when Earth, along with our whole solar system was created.

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"When Pluto was forming, new material would have been coming in and impacting its surface. Each impact is like an explosion that would warm the nearby area," said Carver Bierson, University of California Santa Cruz planetary scientist and the lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"If Pluto formed slowly, the surface would cool between each impact and generally stay very cold. If Pluto formed quickly, you have impact on top of impact and the surface doesn't have time to cool. We calculate that if Pluto formed in less than 30,000 years, the heat from these impacts could have been sufficient to lead to an early ocean," Bierson added.

The planet Pluto is pictured in a handout image made up of four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) taken in July 2015 combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view
The planet Pluto is pictured in a handout image made up of four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) taken in July 2015 combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view | AFP
 

Pluto is situated in the region called the “Kuiper Belt”, and orbits the sun 40 times farther away than the Earth.

Additionally, the planet may have an icy outer shell spanning hundreds of kilometres. Scientists believe this layer protects an ocean of water which may be mixed with salts and ammonia. Pluto may also have a solid rocky core below.

If this is true, the cracks on Pluto’s surface would finally make sense. Water is bound to expand as it freezes, and this implies that Pluto’s oceans froze over time.

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Pluto is a very cold planet, with temperatures running as low as minus 230 degree Celsius (minus 480 degrees F).

Water, an important ingredient of sustaining life, may point to Pluto’s ability to be able to host living organisms.

"Water could have been interacting chemically with the rocky core beneath the ocean, giving you more chemical ingredients to work with," Bierson added. "Are those the right ingredients for life? We don't know. We need to learn more about how life forms, or how life could form, to find these answers."

(With inputs from Reuters)

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