Pluto was first discovered in 1930, it was considered as the ninth planet in our Solar System for a long time but later been downgraded to a dwarf planet. It orbits our Sun at great distances, ranging from 29.657 AU at perihelion to 48.8 AU at aphelion (40 times further from the Sun than Earth is), with sunlight taking around 5.5 hours to reach it. It receives just 1/1600 of the sunlight that Earth gets and its surface at the equator can get as cold as −240 °C (33 K).
Not only does water freeze solid at these temperatures, but the gases that are present on Pluto’s surface – such as methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen gas (N²) – also freeze solid. These compounds have much lower freezing points than water, and so the chance of life surviving under these conditions is very low.
And while Pluto has a very thin atmosphere, it consists mainly of nitrogen gas, methane and carbon monoxide, which exist in equilibrium with their ices on the surface. It has roughly one million to 100,000 times less than Earth’s atmospheric pressure.
This atmosphere also gets changes as Pluto gets closer and past away from the Sun. Basically, when Pluto is at perihelion, the atmosphere freezes solid; when it is at aphelion, the surface temperature increases, causing the ices to sublimate.
As such, there is simply no way life could survive on the surface of Pluto. Between the extreme cold, low atmospheric pressure, and constant changes in the atmosphere, no known organism could survive. However, that does not discard the possibility of life inside the planet.
What about the chances of life in Pluto’s warm ocean?
Scientists have gathered the information in recent years that a liquid ocean of water possibly exists under the icy surface of Pluto. To maintain an ocean, Pluto needs to retain heat inside and it’s possibly a layer of methane that keeping Pluto’s subsurface ocean warm.
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A number of observations point to an underground ocean on Pluto, including deep cracks on its surface that seem to come from subsurface water freezing and expanding. Maintaining a liquid ocean would be good for any potential life under the shell, but the layer of gas hydrates might not be, because it keeps the ice above it extremely cold. Perhaps Pluto’s hiding something in its insides and a new era of space science is bound to find it someday.
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