Home > astronomy > NASA: Charon, Pluto’s moon, may once have had ocean

NASA: Charon, Pluto’s moon, may once have had ocean

In recent years humanity has learned that oceans are not unique to Earth. Discoveries of them on Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa indicate that oceans may actually be ubiquitous in our solar system.

Now, it seems, it is possible that an ocean once existed on a satellite of the dwarf planet Pluto.

NASA said Friday that images obtained by the New Horizons probe suggest that Charon once had a subsurface sea that expanded outward as it froze, cracking the surface of the moon.

The photographs show tectonic faults, including some valleys more than 6.5 kilometers deep, that indicate an expansion of Charon sometime in the past.

Here’s how it likely happened:

The outer-most layer of Charon, including its surface, is now water ice. But the satellite’s internal heat would have caused that ice to melt deep under the surface, which would have resulted in a subsurface ocean. As the decay of radioactive elements that constitute Charon’s structure subsided, and as the rocky object cooled as the time since its formation passed, that ocean would have frozen. Just as the change of water’s state from liquid to solid on Earth causes an increase in the the compound’s volume, ice formation under the surface of Charon would have pushed the surface outward, resulting in the valleys and also numerous ridges and scarps.

Charon images, Feb. 2016

This image shows canyons on Charon. The blow-up photo at top right shows Serenity Chasma, one of many chasms near Charon’s equator. Those chasms constitute a system that is at least 1,800 kilometers long. The blow-up image at bottom right shows the topography of the same area and indicates that ice melted and re-froze there. Images courtesy NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute.

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  1. February 21, 2016 at 5:16 am

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Like a bottle of water left to freeze, Charon’s liquid center froze, expanded and CRACKED THE MOON!

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