Pluto’s moon Charon once hosted subsurface ocean: NASA – NH Voice

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Pluto’s moon Charon once hosted subsurface ocean: NASA

After analyzing the data collected by New Horizons space probe during its historical flyby of Pluto and its moons, NASA scientists have concluded that the distant dwarf planet’s largest moon once had a massive subsurface ocean.

Scientists reported that Pluto’s largest moon Charon’s giant canyon might actually be the ocean, albeit it might have frozen long ago due to drastically low temperature. After freezing, it apparently expanded so much that it resulted in the fracture of the Charon’s surface.

The study team added that the outer layer of the moon, which is primarily water ice, was kept warm when the moon was young by heat produced by the decay of radioactive elements and its own internal heat.

Sharing the new findings, the scientists said, “Charon could have been warm enough to cause the water ice to melt deep down, creating a subsurface ocean. But as Charon cooled over time, this ocean would have frozen and expanded, lifting the outermost layers of the moon and producing the massive chasms we see today.”

When scientists first discovered the massive fracture on Charon’s surface, they were awestruck. They estimated that the canyon is as long as our Earth’s Grand Canyon and twice as deep.

Charon, which is also called Pluto I, is the largest of the five known moons of Pluto. It was discovered by scientists at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. in 1978.

According to Washington Post, “Charon was already a pretty weird place: At half the size of Pluto, it’s closer in size to its host planet than any other satellite in the solar system. In fact, one could make the argument that it’s more of a dwarf planet than a moon.”

Charon’s outer layer is primarily water ice. When the moon was young this layer was warmed by the decay of radioactive elements, as well as Charon’s own internal heat of formation. Scientists say Charon could have been warm enough to cause the water ice to melt deep down, creating a subsurface ocean. But as Charon cooled over time, this ocean would have frozen and expanded (as happens when water freezes), pushing the surface outward and producing the massive chasms we see today.

The lower portion of the image shows color-coded topography of the same scene. Measurements of the shape of this feature tell scientists that Charon’s water-ice layer may have been at least partially liquid in its early history, and has since refrozen.

The side of Charon viewed by the passing New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015 is characterized by a system of “pull apart” tectonic faults, which are expressed as ridges, scarps and valleys—the latter sometimes reaching more than 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) deep.

Pluto’s moon Charon once hosted subsurface ocean: NASA – NH Voice