Researchers suspects gas insulation could be protecting an ocean inside Pluto
25, May 2019
Prelims level : Mains level :
- Researchers said that computer simulations provide compelling evidence that an insulating layer of gas hydrates could keep a subsurface ocean from freezing beneath Pluto’s icy exterior.
- The researchers conducted computer simulations covering a timescale of 4.6 billion years when the solar system began to form.
- The simulations showed the thermal and structural evolution of Pluto’s interior and the time required for a subsurface ocean to freeze and for the icy shell covering it to become uniformly thick.
- They simulated two scenarios: one where an insulating layer of gas hydrates existed between the ocean and the icy shell, and one where it did not.
- In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew through Pluto’s system, providing the first-ever close-up images of this distant dwarf planet and its moons.
- The images showed Pluto’s unexpected topography, including a white-colored ellipsoidal basin named Sputnik Planitia, located near the equator and roughly the size of Texas.
- Because of its location and topography, scientists believe a subsurface ocean exists beneath the ice shell which is thinned at Sputnik Planitia.
- However, these observations are contradictory to the age of the dwarf planet because the ocean should have frozen a long time ago and the inner surface of the ice shell facing the ocean should have also been flattened.
- The simulation’s results support the possibility of a long-lived liquid ocean existing beneath the icy crust of Sputnik Planitia.