Liquid oceans may last longer in outer solar system: study

In news

In a boost to finding alien life, NASA scientists have discovered that oceans beneath the icy surface of distant worlds at the edge of our solar system may sustain liquid water for far longer than previously believed.

How?

Heat generated by the gravitational pull of moons formed from massive collisions could extend the lifetimes of liquid water oceans beneath the surface of large icy worlds lying beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto and their moons.

These objects need to be considered as potential reservoirs of water and life

Highlights

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 Celsius.

However, there is evidence that some may have layers of liquid water beneath their icy crusts.

At the extremely low surface temperatures on these objects, water ice takes a disordered, amorphous form instead of the regularly ordered crystals typical in warmer areas, such as snowflakes on Earth.

Space radiation converts crystalline water ice to the amorphous form and breaks down ammonia hydrates, so they are not expected to survive long on TNO surfaces.

This suggests that both compounds may have come from an interior liquid water layer that erupted to the surface, a process known as cryovolcanism.

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