Pluto's heart could hold clues to what is lying under its icy surface.
Up until now, Pluto has remained a mystery to scientists. Its icy surface has been examined and studied for many years but new research suggests there may be something huge under its frozen exterior – in particular the heart-shaped ice formation that was thought to be created by an asteroid impact.
A research team from Brown University conducted a study using a thermal model of the dwarf planet’s interior together with tectonic detailing on Pluto’s surface. The results showed that there could be evidence of a large salty ocean hiding under the ice surface.
“Thermal models of Pluto’s interior and tectonic evidence found on the surface suggest that an ocean may exist, but it’s not easy to infer its size or anything else about it,” stated lead author of the study Brandon Johnson, also assistant professor at Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. “We’ve been able to put some constraints on its thickness and get some clues about composition.”
The reason this is extraordinary is because of Pluto’s distance from the sun but the team think it has something to do with its moon Charon which it is always “tidally locked” with due to the fact it’s always facing the same way as it orbits at the same pace.
Pluto’s heart is located in a region called the Sputnik Planum where the center of the tidal axis could be – a place that has many craters due to asteroid impacts. The belief is there could be nitrogen ice present in the western area of the heart because when impact craters are formed, mass underneath are pulled up and in this instance a liquid layer is produced.
After creating a reenactment using simulation programmes, the researchers believe there could possibly be a 62-mile thick ocean with a saline density of 30 percent present just under the heart’s surface.
Details of the study were published in AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters.