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Does Pluto's moon have a subsurface ocean ?

Posted on Saturday, 14 June, 2014 | Comment icon 4 comments

Artist's impression of Pluto's surface. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 ESO
New Horizons will be looking for signs of a subterranean sea when it reaches Pluto and Charon next year.
Like Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, Pluto's moon Charon might have also been home to an ocean of liquid water locked beneath a layer of ice, albeit in the distant past.

Scientists will be looking for signs of cracks in Charon's surface when New Horizons flies by Pluto in 2015 to see if even in the outer reaches of the solar system there could have once been an environment in which life might have been able to develop.

Today Charon and Pluto are tidally locked so any subsurface ocean will have long since frozen, but the telltale signs should still be there.

"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," said NASA's Alyssa Rhoden.

"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."

Source: NBC News | Comments (4)

Tags: Pluto, Charon

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Sundew on 14 June, 2014, 21:26
Strictly guessing here, but I think that Pluto lacks the mass for a gravitational heating of its moon's water to keep it in a liquid state. Jupiter and Saturn both have gravity sufficient to keep water liquid on their moons, in fact the gravitational tug makes Io the most volcanically active body in the solar system. I would be somewhat doubtful of Charon having a liquid subsurface ocean.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 14 June, 2014, 21:41
There are two points to make here. The first is that the article is talking about a subsurface ocean in the past tense, not about it existing now. The second is that mass is not the only factor, distance between the objects is important too. In fact gravity obeys an inverse square law, so halve the distance and gravitational attraction is 4 times stronger, reduce the distance to a third and it's nine times stronger and so on. Charon orbits Pluto over 40 times closer than Io orbits Jupiter.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Silent Trinity on 15 June, 2014, 14:06
I would be inclined to say, yes why not? There are so many mysteries to the universe that even the true origins and compositions of the planetary bodies in our own solar system is broadly speaking still a mystery. We have had a tantalizing glimpse by various probes performing flyby's etc, but not the kind of exploration necessary, which would be a mammoth task to undertake. I think therefore that it is entirely possible that Pluto has / had a subsurface ocean, and given what we do know and the extreme low temperatures, I would be amongst the camp that believes it was / is frozen. Of course... [More]

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