A couple of difficult decades have pbaded for Pluto. After more than a decade of debate about whether or not it should be considered a planet, the big ice and rock ball was officially demoted in 2006, and the debate has spread over its state since then. Despite its new and less prestigious clbadification as a dwarf planet, NASA is still very interested in what Pluto might be hiding. Now, NASA researchers suggest that a vast ocean could hide under the frozen crust of Pluto and, in a rare move, even suggest that Pluto can support life in the depths of its surface.
The key factor in Pluto's potential to support liquid water below its surface, and therefore life, is the existence of its moons. As NASA explains, recent research has revealed that the icy worlds in orbit around the moons can benefit from what is known as tidal warming. In short, the gravitational attraction of a moon on a planet (or dwarf planet) can produce enough friction energy inside its icy body to generate heat and sustain an underwater ocean.
Trans-Neptunian objects (TNO) such as Pluto are so far from the sun that the heat of the star is simply not enough to prevent the surface of the ocean from freezing, but the warming of the tide could still allow the liquid water slide below. After objects such as Pluto formed, radioactive decay could have produced the initial heat to form the ocean from water ice, but once the surface was frozen it would need the friction of gravity to prevent it from solidifying again, As a fast-moving stream can fight freezing temperatures. It's incredible news for anyone who still dreams that someday scientists will locate extraterrestrial life in our own backyard.
"These objects should be considered potential reservoirs of water and life," Prabal Saxena of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center explains. "If our study is correct, we can now have more places in our solar system that possess some of the critical elements for extraterrestrial life."
Currently, there are no concrete plans to explore the possibility of liquid water or hidden life far below the surface of Pluto, but that could change. All eyes are on the full moon of Saturn's ice, Enceladus, and we already know that there is an ocean of water below its surface thanks to the geysers that are observed throwing water into space. It is believed that liquid water from the moon also benefits from tidal warming, and if the scientists decide to investigate further, Pluto may be next on their list.