Liquid oceans in icy bodies expand potential worlds in the Solar System
A new NASA study has suggested that there could be a high number of icy worlds in the Solar System that has liquid water below the surface.
The findings expand the number of worlds where alien life can be possibly found since liquid water is essential to supporting known form of life. Astronomers think that there are dozens of these potentially habitable worlds.
Bodies called the Trans-Neptunian Objects, or TNOs, which include the dwarf planet Pluto, lie beyond the orbit of Neptune. These worlds are relatively very far from the sun that their surface temperatures of about 200 degrees Celsius below zero are cold enough to prevent liquid water to exist.
In the new study, however, Prabal Saxena of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and colleagues found evidence that the gravitational interaction of these TNOs with their moons may produce enough heat in the interior of these bodies to sustain liquid oceans beneath their icy surface.
Astronomers think that liquid water may exist in Pluto and other outer solar system bodies because analysis of light reflected from some TNOs revealed signatures of ammonia hydrates and crystalline water ice. Researchers suggest that these emerged to the surface from an interior liquid water source through a process known as cryovolcanism.
Most of the long-lived heat inside of TNOs were from the decay of radioactive elements that were infused into these objects. As the radioactive elements decay into more stable ones, however, they stop releasing heat and this can eventually cool down the interior of these bodies causing any subsurface ocean to freeze.