There may be life in the far reaches of the solar system

Scientists have discovered that small, icy worlds on the outskirts of the solar system may be better candidates for life than scientists thought.

The dwarf planets Eris and Makemake, located in the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Neptune, may have geothermal activity beneath their surface, writes Newsweek .

These geological processes can be inferred from the discovery of methane isotopes – forms of methane that differ in the number of neutrons in the core – on the surface of Eris and Makemake. This was the first time these methane isotopes had been detected at sites beyond Neptune.

This means that these dwarf planets may be warmer than expected and therefore more habitable.

Research shows that the surface of Eris and Makemake contains traces of geologically new methane, which could only have entered there as a result of geothermal activity. This suggests that dwarf planets may be the site of cryovolcanism or even have a hot rocky core.

“The possibility of subsurface oceans and the discovery of rare methane isotopologues on these distant worlds challenge the generally accepted view of the primordial composition of large trans-Neptunian objects,” said Noemi Pinilla-Alonso, a research professor at the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida.

“This not only redefines our understanding of these icy worlds, but also highlights the key role of endogenous forces in the formation of the solar system’s outer bodies,” Pinilla-Alonso said.

The discovery was made using data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope, which allowed researchers to measure the composition of the surfaces of Eris and Makemake.

Eris and Makemake

Eris and Makemake, along with Pluto and Haumea, are dwarf planets at the edge of the solar system. Dwarf planets are characterized by having enough mass that their own gravity can force them into a roughly spherical shape, but they differ from full planets in that they have not cleared the vicinity of their orbit of other debris.

Eris is the largest dwarf planet in the Solar System, larger than Pluto, and orbits at an average distance of 6,289,000,000 miles from the Sun, about 68 times farther than Earth. Eris orbits the Sun once every 557 years.

Makemake is the third largest known dwarf planet in the solar system after Pluto and Eris, with a diameter of 888 miles. Orbiting the Sun takes about 309 years. It was opened in 2005.