Did Pluto’s moon Charon once have an ocean?

Image: Charon

This close-up of Charon’s canyons was taken by NASA’s New Horizons probe during last July’s flyby. The color-coded picture shows elevation data. Serenity Chasma’s depth can exceed 4 miles in places. In comparison, the Grand Canyon’s maximum depth is a mile. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Scientists say the patterns of ice in canyons on Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, look as if some the frozen water was once liquid. And that suggests Charon had a subsurface ocean in ancient times.

The evidence comes from close analysis of images and elevation data collected last July when NASA’s New Horizons probe zoomed past Pluto and its moons. Even before the flyby, scientists speculated that Charon may have harbored liquid water, and that some water may still flow beneath its icy surface. The stereo measurements from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LORRI, are consistent with that hypothesis.

The clues come in the form of stretch marks in the ice around Serenity Chasma, a canyon that’s 4.5 miles deep in some places.

“Charon’s tectonic landscape shows that, somehow, the moon expanded in its past, and – like Bruce Banner tearing his shirt as he becomes the Incredible Hulk – Charon’s surface fractured as it stretched,” the science team said in an image advisory on Thursday.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
This entry was posted in GeekWire and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s