Some of you might have woken up on April 1 to find that Pluto had been reinstated as a planet. Of course, it wasn’t true — neither was the rumor that Richard Branson bought Pluto, thank the stars. But here’s some information about Pluto that appears to be totally legit: astronomers now think it has a subsurface ocean.
A new study proposes that, after a massive object smashed into Pluto, creating its moon Charon, the heat released by the collision warmed up a region in Pluto’s interior, creating an ocean that may still be there and may actually exist in liquid form. It seems crazy to think that a planet so far from the sun could have liquid water, but come on, it’s the Cosmos — strange and crazy are its bailiwick.
Researchers believe that the ocean may be preserved under 60 or so miles of ice, and can remain in liquid form if it has mixed with ammonias and salts, essentially turning it into something akin to antifreeze. The possibility of tectonic activity on Pluto would support this notion, which is something we’ll find out when New Horizons gets there next summer.
As cool as that possibility is, I’m afraid Pluto’s news is going to be dwarfed by another announcement. Saturn’s having a baby! Well, maybe. Where can I score an invite to the shower?
New research indicates the “discovery and dynamical evolution of an object at the outer edge of Saturn’s A ring.” In 2013 Cassini’s keen eye spotted icy material moving along the edges of Saturn’s A ring. That movement is likely the gravitational effects of something else — something about half a mile wide. Queen Mary University astronomer Carl Murray believes this may be “the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.” Murray named the object Peggy, after his mother-in-law who happened to be celebrating a birthday on the day he saw the images.
Some scientists don’t expect Peggy to get any bigger; it’s possible that the planet may even break apart. It’s also possible that Peggy may continue forming and increasing at least a little bit in size and push itself free of Saturn’s ring, eventually establishing its own orbit around Saturn. This is how Saturn’s other moons formed long ago, but astronomers don’t think much moon-making stuff remains in Saturn’s rings, so now it can only give birth to tiny moons and other objects, if anything. Regardless of Peggy’s fate, monitoring its development will provide insight into the formation of Saturn’s other moons.