Of the many mysteries of the beloved former planet Pluto, the likely presence of a liquid ocean under its icy surface is one of the biggest. Now, a new study is offering up a theory on how its ocean has avoided freezing along with the rest of the dwarf planet.
The new research, published on Monday in Nature Geoscience, used data from NASA's New Horizon spacecraft, which collected data from Pluto and its moon Charon back in 2015. That data, combined with computer simulations, determined that Pluto's ocean is probably insulated from the well-below-freezing temperatures of its surface and atmosphere by a layer of gas, CNN reported.
Methane, which would likely be released from Pluto's core back while it was still forming, "would be thick and have low thermal conductivity," which would allow it to act as an insulator between the large amounts of ice on the dwarf planet's surface and the liquid water underneath.
It's possible that similar insulating layers of gas exist elsewhere in our galaxy and beyond, hiding similar oceans from the extreme cold of outer space. This would make "the existence of extraterrestrial life more plausible," said Shunichi Kamata, the study's lead author. Read more at CNN.