Ammonia found on Pluto: Is the dwarf planet a place suitable for life?

New findings suggest that Pluto may hold some suitable for the evolution of life. A scent of ammonia in the red ices on Pluto may be the proof of late geological activity on the small planet, with liquid water erupting from the planet’s insides.

Researchers analyzed data that NASA’s New Horizons probe collected while on its flyby of the small planet back in 2015. They discovered within the data evidence of ammonia on the planet’s surface in regions that older research implied had tectonic activity.

A research conducted by Cristina Dalle Ore, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California said that ammonia had been a key value in the planetary science field in the latest years. A particular reason for this is that ammonia is a crucial element in chemical reactions concealing life as we know it. Therefore, when it is discovered, it signals the presence of a habitat that is suitable for life. It, however, doesn’t mean that life already exists there, but it argues an area scientists should further analyze.

Ammonia is a sensitive particle and gets killed by ultraviolet irradiation and cosmic beams as well. Thus, when discovered on a surface, it suggests that it had been positioned there quite recently, perhaps a few million years before it was found.

The scientists implied that when placed on Pluto’s surface, the element was already merged with water from a subterranean ocean buried inside the small planet. The water might have already sprouted out through cracks and was diffused on the planet’s surface. Scientists call this phenomenon ‘cryovolcanism.’

The thought that Pluto might hold liquid water is entirely unexpected because the planet’s surface is approximate to -390 degrees Fahrenheit (-270 degrees Celsius), and it is more than sufficiently cold to freeze air.

Even so, heat from radioactive minerals makes Pluto’s insides warmer than its surface, and ammonia, when merged with water, acts like antifreeze and thus, enables water to liquefy at temperatures that would alternatively be extremely cold, Dalle Ore explained.

In other words, the presence of the element in water makes it possible for a liquid water body to dwell underneath the frozen surface of the planet.

The discoveries were published in the journal Science Advances.

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About the Author: Emmy Skylar

Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News.  She covers politics and the economy.

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