While everyone is still excited about the potential habitablity of Super-Earth HD 85512 b, it’s worth noting that there still might be some potential for life in our own backyard. An article in New Scientist suggests that everyone’s favorite dwarf planet, Pluto, may be hiding some liquid water oceans under its icy coating.
How could Pluto possibly have liquid oceans so far away from the sun? Well, it may be packing some heat in its core. Guillaume Robuchon and Francis Nimmo from University of California, Santa Cruz suggest that Pluto very well may have liquid oceans if its core contains enough potassium and if its ice is appropriately sloshy.
Given the size of Pluto’s rocky core, calculations show that if that core has potassium concentrations of at least 75 parts per billion, decay could be generating enough heat to melt the planet’s icy sheets from the inside out. While we don’t know the concentration for sure, William McKinnon of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri says that, given the concentration of potassium in Earth’s core, Pluto should have a concentration that is at least that high.
The other variable in the equation is the sloshiness of Pluto’s ice flows. If they are too sloshy and move too fast, the ice that covers these budding oceans will slosh around allowing the precious core-heat to escape into the cold, unforgiving vacuum of the cosmos. On the other hand, if the ice floes flow more like the glaciers we have here on Earth, they may be able to provide the insulation needed to give Pluto some consistently liquid oceans.
There’s no way for us to measure the sloshiness of Pluto’s ice directly from here on Earth, but by measuring how it is affected by the tug of its moon Charon, we should be able to infer whether or not there’s an ocean hiding under there. When the New Horizons probe passes and take some shots in 2015, we should be able to make an educated guess. If Pluto is hiding oceans, it could open up a world of possibilities when it comes to the potential for life in the outer reaches of the solar system. It looks like Pluto is trying hard to prove itself to us. Hopefully it can pull it off.
(via New Scientist)
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