When New Horizons flew past Pluto on its way into space, the NASA satellite revealed that there might be an ocean underneath the dwarf planet’s icy crust.
A Brown University student has analyzed the data from New Horizon and hypothesized that the ocean still exists.
“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,”
Noah Hammond, a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown and the lead author of the study, said.
The study was conducted using Pluto’s thermal evolution model with updated data sent back by New Horizons. The information showed that if the dwarf planet’s ocean had frozen millions or billions of years ago that the entire planet would have shrunk as a result. Pluto shows no signs of global contraction, but has expanded.
“What New Horizons showed was that there are extensional tectonic features, which indicate that Pluto underwent a period of global expansion,” Hammond said. “A subsurface ocean that was slowly freezing over would cause this kind of expansion.”