The frozen heart of Pluto hides a gigantic ocean. Could it harbor life?

Recent news from NASA suggests Pluto’s icy « heart » is home to a massive ocean. Thousands of these dwarf planets in deep space could also contain this type of exotic ocean. But concretely, could they shelter life?

Pluto hides in its heart a vast liquid ocean. If you could suck up the entire contents of this ocean, you could model a sphere about 1,200 km wide that would encompass about 75% of the Earth’s entire reservoir of liquid water. These are the data collected and then transmitted by the probe NewHorizon and published in the journal Nature on November 16. The question today is to know what this “ocean” is made of. And could it support extraterrestrial life?

Steven Vance, NASA astrobiologist and geophysicist, recently explained that the ocean of Pluto probably contained « alcohols » (methanol, ethanol), hydrocarbons (methane, ethane) and more complex molecules made from carbon. , nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen in abundance on the dwarf planet. These chemicals could act as an antifreeze, thus making the icy surface waters more melting indoors. These compounds could serve as a basis for the development of life, but according to a study published this Thursday, still in the journal Nature, Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is said to harbor a huge amount of ammonia, a compound found in glass cleaner bottles. William McKinnon, lead author of this study, then suggests that Pluto could also harbor a huge amount of it.

According to our researcher, the presence of ammonia rules out the idea of ​​one day being able to detect life similar to that found on Earth.  » You have no place for germs on Pluto, much less for fish or any other life as we know it here on Earth “, he explains.  » But, as with methane seas on Saturn’s main moon Titan, this study raises the question of whether new lifeforms could exist in these cold, exotic liquids. « .

Pam Engebretson
Pam Engebretson

 » Life can tolerate many things “, continues the researcher.  » It can tolerate a lot of salt, extreme cold, extreme heat, etc. But I don’t think she can tolerate that much ammonia. If we were to imagine life in an ocean completely covered in ice, the best we could hope for would be some very primitive, perhaps even precellular kind of life. « .

Worlds such as Pluto number in the millions in the Universe. Thus dwarf planets could, a priori, harbor extraterrestrial life forms, even precellular ones. Yes, there could in theory be life on Pluto. The question that arises today is: is there life under the heart of Pluto? We do not know. At least not yet.


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