Pluto’s ocean may go deeper than Earth’s

Sputnik Planum
The left side of Pluto’s bright “heart” is known informally as Sputnik Planum. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Scientists have been saying for months that Pluto could have a salty, sloshing ocean beneath its icy surface, but now they’ve worked out just how deep it could go. The answer? As deep as 60 miles, or nine times the depth of Earth’s deepest seas.

The estimate, based on computer modeling of the impact dynamics behind a heart-shaped region of Pluto, was published this month in Geophysical Research Letters.

The bright-colored “heart,” first seen last year by NASA’s New Horizons probe, is arguably Pluto’s best-known surface feature. But it’s actually two features. Scientists say the left lobe of the heart, known informally as Sputnik Planum, was created in the aftermath of an ancient impact. The object that made that impact is thought to have been about 120 miles (200 kilometers) wide.

In June, researchers reported that the geological features mapped on Pluto’s surface would be consistent with the presence of a liquid water ocean far below, perhaps heated by the decay of radioactive materials in Pluto’s rocky core. But they didn’t estimate the size of the ocean.

This month’s findings address that question.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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