Ancient Ocean May Have Existed on Pluto’s Moon Charon


NASA’s New Horizons probe will investigate evidence for an underground ocean on Charon.

While Charon’s surface temperature is -380 Fahrenheit, a subsurface ocean may have existed in the past, say scientists. When the probe flies past Pluto in July 2015, they will be looking for cracks in Charon’s surface, which may hint at the ancient ocean.

“Our model predicts different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon depending on the thickness of its surface ice, the structure of the moon’s interior and how easily it deforms, and how its orbit evolved,” Alyssa Rhoden of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said Friday in a NASA news release. “By comparing the actual New Horizons observations of Charon to the various predictions, we can see what fits best and discover if Charon could have had a subsurface ocean in its past, driven by high eccentricity.”

Moons undergo deformation as they orbit their respective planet due to the tidal forces they experience. This “flexing” warms a moon’s interior, and the question is whether this warming on Charon, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Enceladus is enough to maintain a liquid underground ocean. Today, Charon is tidally locked with Pluto an no longer experiences the flexing forces, so any ocean that may have existed would have frozen over.

A paper on this research is available online in the journal Icarus.

If Charon once had a liquid ocean, the possibility then exists that it also supported life – and that that life left behind fossils. Do you think we’ll ever find evidence for extraterrestrial life anywhere in our solar system?

Source: NBC News

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