Pluto has an ocean hiding under the surface, new data suggests

by Brandon Russell | March 20, 2016

Over the past few months, scientists have uncovered several new details about Pluto’s complex and mysterious geology: ice volcanos, floating hills, deep canyons, hazy skies, and maybe even methane snow. Now, research published on Thursday suggests there’s liquid water hiding beneath the planet’s frozen surface.

Pluto’s subsurface ocean is something it has in common with many other moons in our galaxy, including Saturn’s Enceladus, Jupiter’s Europa, and even Mars. This whole time we thought Pluto was weird and unusual, but the latest data makes our home planet look like the odd man out.

“It’s interesting that only Earth wears its ocean on the outside,” explained Alan Stern, lead scientist of New Horizons. “From the surface, we don’t see them. Who knew that oceans would turn out to be fairly common?”

If there’s water, does that mean there’s the potential for life? According to planetary scientist William McKinnon, there’s always the possibility though it’s unlikely.

“All we can say is that we think that Pluto has an ocean and we think that this ocean has survived to the present day,” McKinnon said. “You certainly couldn’t rule [life] out, but anything about life on Pluto is simply speculation.”

Since flying by Pluto last year, New Horizons has continued to send information back to Earth and will continue to do so throughout 2016.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...