Although we ordinarily think of an ocean as a huge body of water, NASA scientists used the same term to describe a mass collection of dangerous substances on Pluto, very different from water but which may form the chemical basis for life.
NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft has discovered that the dwarf planet hosts a massive subsurface ocean. Unfortunately, it mostly contains a variety of unsafe chemicals such as ethane hydrocarbons, methane, ethanol alcohols, methanol, and other different compounds mostly made up of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, all of which are very abundant on Pluto.
This discovery is very important for related two reasons. First, it helped scientists learn that other dwarf planets they have discovered could contain similar oceans. Second, any talk of oceans on other planets will inevitably lead researchers to determine whether or not it’s possible to sustain life in them.
William McKinnon, a professor of earth & sciences at the Washington University in St. Louis, as well as a co-author of two Pluto studies, stated that the ocean which is rich in ammonia can be found in a heart-shaped region on the dwarf planet known as Sputnik Planitia. His studies are based on data provided the New Horizon spacecraft, which discovered the ammonia compound both on Pluto and its moon, Charon.
Although Mckinnon dismisses the idea that any standard form of lives we know of could exist in the ocean of toxic chemicals, he does not exclude the possibility that some extraordinary and new life forms could have formed inside it. The discovery of Pluto’s ocean might mean that as humankind progress further into the Kuiper Belt and farther from Earth, that exotic forms of life could be discovered on planets with certain conditions.
Scientists even welcome the discovery of precellular life forms, as they suspect it was the case with Earth’s first life forms. Despite all the optimism, McKinnon has stated that the discovery of Pluto’s ocean is only an inference at this point, based on observations made by New Horizons.
To actually confirm the existence of the subsurface ocean, scientists need to take gravity measurements or subsurface radar sounding. These measurements can only be accomplished through a future orbiter mission to Pluto.
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