Science News

Pluto’s Moon Charon May Have Once Had A Subsurface Ocean

Charon Moon
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The latest images beamed down from NASA’s New Horizons explorative mission show that the surface of Pluto’s moon Charon has been pulled apart by a series of tectonic faults, splitting its surface and prompting Phys.Org to compare Charon to shirt-splitting superhero the Incredible Hulk.

According to NASA, the most likely explanation for the “pull apart”, hulk-like fractures in the moon’s surface is that previously Charon had a subsurface ocean. At formation, the moon would have been hot – heated by decaying radioactive elements – and the ocean liquid. But as Charon cooled over time, the ocean would have slowly frozen over and its mass increased in size. As water freezes it expands, and this expanding mass would have put massive pressure on the exterior crust of the moon, causing it to split open – leaving immense chasms on Charon’s outer surface, much as Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Hulk leaves his clothing in tattered rags.

The images obtained by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) onboard New Horizons show part of an expansive equatorial belt of fissures on Charon’s surface. This network of chasms and tectonic faults is at least 1,100 miles (approximately 1,800 kilometers) long and at points 4.5 miles (7.5 kilometers) deep. To give a sense of how immense this is, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 kilometers) long and a little over a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep, says NASA.

The image of Charon’s surface sent back by New Horizons shows an area of the moon that is 240 miles (386 kilometers) long and 110 miles (175 kilometers) wide. It was obtained at a range of approximately 48,900 miles (78,700 kilometers) from Charon, roughly one hour and forty minutes before New Horizons’ closest pass over Pluto’s moon on July 14, 2015.

Click to comment
To Top

Hi - We Would Love To Keep In Touch

If you liked this article then please consider joing our mailing list to receive the latest news, updates and opportunities from our team.

We don't want an impostor using your email address so please look for an email from us and click the link to confirm your email address.