It is Possible that Pluto may contain a layer of Carbon Beneath its Crust

It is Possible that Pluto may contain a layer of Carbon Beneath its Crust

Pluto has a 100-kilometer layer of Carbon beneath its crust, scientists say

There is a consensus among scientists on calling Pluto a ‘Dwarf Planet’. It is located in Kuiper belt (a ring of bodies beyond Neptune). At the time of its discovery, it was given the status of a planet but this changed later when more objects were discovered in that belt. In 2006, it was officially excluded from the list of planets and a new term (dwarf planet), which was introduced a year back, was associated with Pluto.

The images taken by New Horizons in 2015 provided another reason for humans to show interest in it. The icy dwarf planet showed a lot more than ice in those pictures. It encouraged the scientists to study more about its surface. A recent report has sparked a new debate in the science world.

According to that report, Pluto may have a heated, tar-like layer of organic matter, mostly carbon, underneath its crust. In ideal conditions, it has the ability to produce amorphous carbon or granite. If this idea is taken into consideration, the entire theory used by scientists to explain the creation of this planet will change. However, the research is far from done to conclude anything in this regard. Bill McKinnon, a planetary scientist at Washington University and member of the research team which flew past Pluto in 2015, said,

“Organic matter, when you cook it, the end product is either amorphous carbon or graphite. It’s not something that would be impossible inside the warmer parts of large, icy satellites and places like Pluto.”

Credit: NY Times

According to him, the region in which Pluto was born has a large role to play in all this. He presented this idea in December last year where he explained that if such a layer is present beneath the surface, pressure and heat can produce a thick, gooey material. He compared it with an asphalt as it is produced by using the heaviest fraction of carbon-based substance (petroleum). He also mentioned that the thickness of this layer could be 100 kilometers.

Pluto’s crust has always been a part of debates among scientists. A theory, prior to this one, which brought quite a lot of movement among researchers was that there could be a huge ocean of salts underneath the surface of this dwarf planet. That region was irregular in shape and the name given to it was ‘Sputnik Planum’. A point of interest here is that thickness of that ocean was also estimated to be about 100 kilometers. The interaction of Pluto with its Moon, Charon, provided an explanation for this theory as it is tidally locked above the ocean.

Exploring the layers of celestial bodies including planets is still a challenge for humans as seismometers have the capacity to calculate the time taken by earthquake waves to travel through the crust. The variation in this speed helps scientists to figure out the composition of that surface. For places where this instrument is not present, the only factors to consider are the mass and size of that celestial body. In that case, the general assumption taken by scientists is that there are various layers of rock and ice. About this McKinnon said,

“The simplest thing to do is to assume it’s made of rock and it’s made of ice. It’s either mixed together, or it’s not mixed together, or it’s halfway.”

This model leads to a conclusion that crust of Pluto either holds a liquid or it has a recently frozen ocean under its surface.

The point to ponder here is that if Pluto managed to store organic material in its crust, volatile substances could have been released leaving behind carbon due to intense pressure and temperature. According to McKinnon,

“Instead of having rock and ice, you might have rock and a massive organic layer — not just sort of a skein or a thin film, but something on the order of 100 kilometers [60 miles] thick or more.”

We are still nowhere near the accurate solution of this query. Whether Pluto has a carbon layer or an ocean, we really don’t know. The data from New Horizons, which gave birth to this story, is the only available content to work with and it seems as if it is not enough to draw any conclusion.

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