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What prevents Pluto's ocean from freezing?

Buried oceans such as the one believed to slosh under the icy surface of the dwarf planet Pluto may be unbelievably widespread throughout the cosmos.

A gaseous insulating layer probably prevents Pluto's liquid-water ocean from freezing, according to a new study. The same could happen under the surface of cold worlds in other solar systems, according to the members of the study team.

"This could mean that there are more oceans in the universe than previously thought, making the existence of extraterrestrial life more plausible," said lead author Shunichi Kamata of Hokkaido University in Japan in a statement.

Pluto's "Heart" Notes on the Buried Ocean

The fall of an underground ocean on Pluto is due to the location of Sputnik Planitia, a 1

000-kilometer-wide plain of nitrogen ice that forms the left lobe of the dwarf planet's famous "heart" ,

Observations by NASA's New Horizons probe showed that Sputnik Planitia is aligned with the tidal axis of Pluto – along the line, which is the strongest attraction of the largest dwarf planet, Charon. Scientists believe Pluto rolled in that direction because of the extra mass concentrated on and near the surface in the Sputnik-Planitia region.

This additional mass is probably due to the nitrogen ice formed in the plain, as well as water from the buried ocean that, after the comet impact that formed Sputnik Planitia, rose from deep underground and shattered the crust in that area Earlier investigations suggest.

But how could a buried ocean not remain frozen during the 4.6-billion-year history of the solar system on Pluto? After all, the dwarf planet does not orbit any gas giant, so its guts are not nearly as dramatically pierced and heated by tidal forces as the insides of Jupiter's Moon Europa and the Saturn satellite Enceladus, both of which also harbor subterranean oceans.

The new study offers a possible explanation. Kamata and his colleagues hypothesized that an insulating layer of "gas hydrates" – ice-like solids consisting of gases trapped in "cages" of molecular water – could be the cause under Pluto's ice sheet, and then performed computer simulations to test the idea. [19659002] In simulations done without the gas hydrates, the ocean of Pluto was frozen hundreds of millions of years ago. But with the insulating layer of the ocean, to this day, the researchers found. The gas hydrates also act as an insulator in the other direction, helping to keep the surface of Pluto cold enough to compensate for observed differences in ice peel strength, the researchers said such a layer actually exists). However, the study team believe that methane is a good candidate, partly because Pluto's haunting atmosphere lacks the stuff.

The new study was published today (May 20) online in the journal Nature Geoscience . [19659002] Copyright 2019 Space.com a future company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, transcribed or distributed .

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