A new research based on the analysis of features revealed by NASA’s New Horizons probe has suggested that the frozen surface of Pluto may be home to a liquid ocean that may be lying deep beneath.
The first pictures released by the New Horizons probe had shown the Sputnik Planitia, forming the one side of the famous heart-shaped feature. The new research, according to the study, could now explain the reason behind the Sputnik Planitia’s position opposite the side facing Pluto’s largest moon Charon,
The ocean, researchers suspect, is mostly water with a mix of some kind of antifreeze, probably ammonia in it.
Fractures consistent with features seen in the New Horizons images are caused by the stress on the icy shell due to the slow refreezing of the ocean, the study said.
However, the idea that Pluto may be having an ocean is not new. But the new findings offer a detailed investigation of its likely role in the evolution of key features. The study has been published in the Journal Nature.
The key features include the vast, low-lying plain known as Sputnik Planitia, which is suspiciously well aligned with Pluto’s tidal axis. The likelihood that this is just a coincidence is only five per cent, researchers said.
“It’s a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” said first author of a paper on the new findings Francis Nimmo, Professor at University of California, Santa Cruz in the U.S.