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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Huge Ocean Could Exist On Pluto Under Massive Thick Layer of Ice


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Pluto is about 39 times farther from the Sun than Earth. With a surface temperature of about -230 degrees Celsius, Pluto does not seem like an ideal candidate to host an ocean. Yet, resent research suggest that Pluto may be warm enough to contain a large ocean beneath its miles-thick ice shell.


According to planetary scientist Guillaume Robuchon of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Pluto's ocean could be 60 to 105 miles in depth, 120 miles beneath the surface.

For an ocean to exist, Pluto's rocks must be concentrated in a rocky core with water and ice layered on the surface. Scientists suspect that the dwarf planet Pluto does in fact hold a rocky core spiked with radioactive materials that are slowly breaking down, releasing enough heat in the process to melt ice and keep it liquid.

By studying Pluto's surface, scientists can determine whether the dwarf planet contains an ocean or not.

If there is an ocean on the planet, the surface should show cracks created as Pluto gradually lost heat and the ice cap thickened over billions of years. That is because the freezing ice would have expanded, causing the surface to bulge upward cracking in the process.

If there was only ice and never an ocean, the cooling of the planet should have contracted the ice rather than expanded it.

NASA's New Horizon space probe is currently on its way to Pluto. After travelling more than 3 billion miles, it is scheduled to fly past Pluto and its moons in July 2015.

It will be the first space probe to have visited Pluto.

It is an exciting mission to an entirely new type of world and all involved scientists look forward to learn more about the enigmatic dwarf planet.

New Horizon will test whether Pluto actually has a subsurface ocean. We will just have to wait a little longer to find out.



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