Pluto Moon Ocean: New Horizons Images Show Charon May Have Once Had An Ocean, What’s Next For New Horizons?

The largest moon orbiting Pluto, Charon, looks to have once been home to a frozen ocean that caused fractures and breaks on the moon’s surface. Evidence that scientists are using in making this claim comes from pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft that explored Pluto and the moons surrounding it.

Pluto And Charon
The outer surface of Charon is mostly frozen ice. Scientists are saying that during the formation of this moon, enough heat was generated to have allowed the ice to thaw. As the thawing ice began to refreeze, an ocean under the surface was created. As the ice freezes, it expands, and the expanding ice caused breaks and fractures in the moon’s surface.

One of the primary areas studied on Charon is called Serenity Chasma. The chasms on this moon are the biggest in the entire solar system. The chasm runs to over 1,100 miles in length and almost five miles deep. In order to get a better understanding, this chasm was compared to the Grand Canyon which is only 277 miles in length and just over one mile deep. The chasm on this moon dwarfs the Grand Canyon in comparison.

Scientists were shocked when the images of Charon were first seen. They did not expect the moon to have such different types of topography. Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute commented on what was expected on Charon.

“We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low, but I couldn’t be more delighted with what we see.”

The New Horizons mission launched on January 19, 2006, and the target was Pluto, Pluto’s moons, and the Kuiper Belt.

Primary Mission Of New Horizons

  • Map surface of Pluto and Charon
  • Determine the geology of Pluto and Charon
  • Understand the atmosphere of Pluto
  • Determine of surrounding moons have atmospheres
  • Determine temperature on Pluto and Charon
  • Do testing for all of these objectives on other parts of the Kuiper Belt

During the summer of 2015, the world saw the first images of Pluto being sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft. Scientist marveled at the topography they saw on Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. They loved what they saw and Pluto may have sent some love back to Earth when a picture showing a heart on Pluto was shared with the world.

Heart On Pluto
As New Horizons got closer to Pluto, a problem with the software left scientists worried that the data from the spacecraft would be lost and the mission be considered a failure. When the software problem happened, New Horizons went into safe mode like it was programmed to do if problems arose. The problem was that no information could be collected while safe mode was engaged. It was discovered that the glitch happened due to the spacecraft trying to perform multiple tasks at the same time.

Currently, New Horizons is on its way towards the Sagittarius Constellation. One of the objects that New Horizons will be studying is 2014 MU69 which orbits one billion miles beyond Pluto. The spacecraft will reach the object in 2019.

At one point in time, liquid water flowed on objects that are the furthest objects studied by scientists on Earth. The New Horizons mission to Pluto and its moon Charon has proven that what scientists expect to be in the outer solar system are not what they actually are.

[Image Via NASA]