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Dwarf planets at the edge of the solar system could hide oceans

Dwarf planets at the edge of the solar system could hide oceans

For several decades, scientists have gradually become aware of the geological activity of small icy bodies in our solar system. Evidence of internal oceans has been found, for example, on Jupiter's moon Europa and on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and is composed of water kept liquid by internal heat. In a new study, a team of planetary scientists has shown that Eris and Makemake, two dwarf planets located in the Kuiper Belt and presumed to be “icy,” may actually have geological activity, having recently replenished their surfaces.

While many scientists focus on the habitable zone of the star, where water could exist in the universeLiquid stateLiquid state On the surface of a planet, to search for worlds that could potentially support life, several works carried out over the past decades have shown that liquid water can exist beneath the surface of icy moons of the outer solar system, such as Europa, a moon of the outer solar system. JupiterJupiteror Enceladus, a moon SaturnSaturn. If the latter has a cold surface due to its great distance from the Sun, planetary scientists suspect internal geological activity there, allowing enough heat to be produced for a layer of liquid water (and other elements in known low concentrations) to persist beneath its surface. ShellShell jelly.

Are the icy worlds in the far reaches of the solar system inactive?

There are icy worlds beyond, e.g The world of dwarvesThe world of dwarves Eris, or Makemake, orbits inside and outside Earth Kuiper beltKuiper belt. The latter is located much further awayIt rotates in orbitIt rotates in orbit to NeptuneNeptuneIts distance from the sun ranges from 30 to 55 degrees Astronomical unitsAstronomical units. Its diameter is 2,326 kilometers. IrisIris It is the most massive dwarf planet discovered to date MassMass Nearly 27% higher than that PlutoPluto (It's a little bigger). Due to its high mass, scientists suggest that it consists mainly of rock covered by a modest layer of ice. Makemake is about 1,430 kilometers in diameter, making it the third largest known object after Neptune.

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It is located away from the heat of the sun Astronomy scientistsAstronomy scientists These worlds have long been considered cold and inactive. But based on the observations he made Space telescopeSpace telescope James Webb, a team of scientists suggests that the two dwarf planets are in fact geologically active. The isotopic composition of its surface actually seems to indicate a relatively recent regeneration in the Stone AgeGeological time scaleGeological time scale. They present their results in the journal Icarus.

Icy oceans beneath the surface of trans-Neptunian dwarf planets?

The team of scientists analyzed the data collected before James Webb Space TelescopeJames Webb Space TelescopeWhile analyzing the frozen surfaces of the two dwarf planets. More specifically, their instruments determined the isotopic composition of… MoleculesMolecules From methane gas present at the surface. Methane is formed from A corncorn to carboncarbon And four atomshydrogenhydrogenthe most abundant element inbeingbeing. But some methane molecules can contain deuterium instead of hydrogen: it is a IsotopesIsotopes Stable hydrogen, which, unlike the latter, contains a NeutronNeutron. According to scientists, deuterium was likely formed during the Big Bang; Determining the relative concentrations of deuterium and hydrogen within methane molecules could make it possible to estimate their origin and the conditions under which they were formed.

The team's results were clear: the D/H ratio (which determines the relative concentrations of deuterium and hydrogen within methane molecules), observed in methane molecules on the surface of icy dwarf planets, is weaker than, for example. Discovered inside comets, which are considered to have not changed since their formation. According to scientists, this is evidence that the methane gas present on the surfaces of Eris and Makemake was produced after their formation, through internal geological processes and was released to the surface. According to their data, they would have a relatively hot rocky core, possibly drawing them out energyenergy From the disintegration of radioactive elements and allowing the formation of methane molecules. Their results also suggest that if these two planets had high concentrations of methane during their formation, the latter would likely have been expelled since then. So, if their rocky cores produce enough heat, could these two dwarf planets host an ocean of liquid water? While more work is needed before this mystery is solved, we now know that trans-Neptunian objects are not as inert as we thought…

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