Analysis of Pluto’s Icy Heart suggests presence of subsurface ocean: Research

Analysis of Pluto’s Icy Heart suggests presence of subsurface ocean: Research

Pluto has been a mystery for astronomers for decades and Pluto’s icy heart, first spotted by New Horizons mission in 2015, could suggest presence of massive subsurface ocean on the dwarf planet. Researchers have also suggested that the heart shaped region on Pluto could have altered the planet’s tilt as well.

As per research team findings, the western lobe of the heart shaped region on Pluto could contain three types of ice. The region named as Sputnik Planitia could be supporting frozen methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide. Sputnik Planitia, the deep basin on Pluto, could have played a role in Pluto’s tilt. Researchers also suggest that the ice cap could have formed long time back and not with some outside impact.

The current research was conducted by astronomers at the University of Maryland. The research paper has been published in December 1 issue of journal Nature. The study was led by Douglas Hamilton, professor of astronomy at University of Maryland.

The research paper also suggests that the region could have formed during geological evolution of Pluto. In the past, astronomers have given different explanations for existence of mysterious heart shaped region on Pluto.

Professor Hamilton developed his own model to analyze the phenomenon. Professor Hamilton added that Pluto’s Sputnik Planitia could be explained by the spin axis tilt of 120 degrees and unusual climate faced by Pluto.

Pluto could have undergone a period of global expansion. The planet could be supporting a subsurface ocean. The data provided by NASA’s New Horizons mission has given tough task to astronomers to analyze some of the most interesting features of Pluto. The tectonic activity on Pluto suggests that the planet was not contracting but expanding. Pluto could be supporting a subsurface ocean of ammonia.

Professor Hamilton added, “The main difference between my model and others is that I suggest that the ice cap formed early, when Pluto was still spinning quickly, and that the basin formed later and not from an impact. The ice cap provides a slight asymmetry that either locks toward or away from Charon when Pluto's spin slows to match the orbital motion of the moon.”

The research paper further informed, “Modeling the dwarf planet's temperatures showed that when averaged over Pluto's 248-year orbit, the 30 degrees north and south latitudes emerged as the coldest places on the dwarf planet, far colder than either pole. Ice would have naturally formed around these latitudes, including at the center of Sputnik Planitia, which is located at 25 degrees north latitude.”

A story published by CS Monitor informed, “When scientists speak of planetary oceans, however, they generally do not mean the kind of ocean a layperson might imagine - an ocean conducive to swimming, splashing, and even fishing. Instead, planetary oceans are far more likely to be composed of liquid methane, ammonia, or nitrogen than the water we are familiar with on Earth.”

Further research will be required to confirm the suggestions made by astronomers.

The research paper added....

"Pluto's big heart weighs heavily on the small planet, leading inevitably to depression," said Hamilton, noting that the same phenomenon happens on Earth: the Greenland Ice Sheet created a basin and pushed down the crust that it rests upon.

While Hamilton's model can explain both the latitude and longitude of Sputnik Planitia, as well as the fact that the ices exist in a basin, several other models were also presented in the December 1, 2016 issue of the journal Nature.

"Either model is viable under the right conditions," said Hamilton. "While we cannot conclude definitively that there is an ocean under Pluto's icy shell, we also cannot state that there is not one."