Scientists have long suspected that as we get to know Pluto better over the next few years, we may uncover evidence of tectonic plates and ancient oceans underneath the surface. A new article by astrophysicists Amy Barr and Geoffrey Collins has given us some idea of how these features might have developed, but we’re a year away from being able to test their theory.
This is in large part because we don’t really have any good images of the former ninth planet. Although Pluto was first spotted in 1930, even the Hubble Space Telescope only reads it as a blurry orb. This will change in early 2015, as the NASA New Horizons mission will collect high-resolution, close-up imagery of Pluto for the first time in human history.
Could there be life in Pluto’s underground oceans (as there might be on those of Europa, Enceladus, and—for that matter—Earth)? While Pluto resides well beyond what exobiologists ordinarily think of as the habitable zone, and the surface can get ludicrously cold (with temperatures as low as -240°C/-400°F), it is not completely beyond the realm of possibility that it has an underground temperature warm enough to sustain some not-yet-understood form of life. It’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s something scientists will inevitably find themselves investigating—especially if we find evidence of underground water.