Japanese scientists say that liquid-water subsurface oceans on Pluto are kept from freezing over thanks to an insulating layer of gas hydrates — a discovery that could mean the distant dwarf planet and other inhospitable habitats could potentially harbor life.
“This could mean there are more oceans in the universe than previously thought, making the existence of extraterrestrial life more plausible,” Shunichi Kamata, lead author from Hokkaido University, said in a statement.
Conventional wisdom dictates that oceans found on dwarf planets like Pluto should’ve technically frozen long ago. But according to the team’s computer simulations, which go back about 4.6 billion years — around the time of the formation of the solar system — these oceans would have no chance to ever freeze over.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience this week, found that it would “only” take one million years to freeze over without an insulating gas layer — but more than one billion years with one.
On Pluto, such a subsurface ocean could still exist to this day thanks to methane and nitrogen gas found in Pluto’s atmosphere. Other icy moons could also host such subsurface oceans as well.
READ MORE: Pluto Has a Buried Ocean — And So Might Many Other Worlds [Space.com]
More on dwarf planets: In 11 Years, Pluto’s Atmosphere Will Be Completely Frozen Solid