In a boost to the search for alien life, a new Nasa study suggests that some icy worlds in our outer solar system, including Pluto, may harbour liquid water oceans beneath the surface. Heat generated by the gravitational pull of moons formed from massive collisions could extend the lifetimes of liquid water oceans beneath the surface of these large icy worlds, said the study published in the journal Icarus.
These frigid worlds are found beyond the orbit of Neptune and include Pluto and its moons. They are known as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) and are far too cold to have liquid water on their surfaces, where temperatures are below minus 200 degrees Celsius.
We found that tidal heating can be a tipping point that may have preserved oceans of liquid water beneath the surface of large TNOs like Pluto and Eris to the present day. The team used the equations for tidal heating and calculated its contribution to the “heat budget” for a wide variety of discovered and hypothetical Trans-Neptunian Objects-moon systems, including the Eris-Dysnomia system. Eris is second-largest of the currently known TNOs after Pluto.