Fresh imagery from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft suggests that Pluto’s moon Charon may have undergone a Hulk-like transformation in its youngest days. Researchers believe that a vast subsurface ocean eventually froze down and put enough pressure on the moon’s crust to make it expand just like the Marvel superhero.
Planetary scientists based their assumptions on a series of cracks, ridges and, valleys that appear on the space rock’s surface in a series of photos taken by New Horizons last summer. Researchers believe that these features were formed by tectonic faults caused by a major event that has put an impression on the entire moon.
Astronomers likened the brutal expanding process of Charon with Incredible Hulk’s transformation, when the comic book superhero tears his shirt to morph into the green monster. Like Hulk, Pluto’s moon saw its surface being fractured as the subsurface ocean expanded.
Charon’s outer crust is mainly made of water ice. Scientists believe that in distant past the space rock was warm enough for the water ice to melt and create a vast ocean. The climbing temperatures were caused by radioactive interactions and the moon’s internal heat.
In the meantime, the moon has cooled down, and so did the hidden ocean, which eventually froze, expanded, and pushed the surface to crack and create the eerie landscape.
New Horizons’ images show that the moon is dotted with chasms especially in the equatorial region. The set of chasms observed there is one of the longest in our solar system, reaching about 1,100 miles in length and 4.5 miles in depth. By contrast, the Grand Canyon runs only 277 miles long and about a mile deep.
Scientists focused on an area in the Serenity Chasma on Charon. They noticed that the feature’s shape and size suggests that the water ice on the moon’s surface may have been liquid in the moon’s distant past, but in the meantime it has frozen.
The high resolution picture of Serenity Chasma was taken by New Horizon’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which snapped the pic when the craft was 48,900 miles above Charon.
The photo was taken 100 minutes after the NASA craft made history and performed humanity’s first flyby of dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015.
The $720 million mission to Pluto started Jan. 2006, but the craft’s scientific work is not over with the last year’s historic encounter. New Horizons is now on its way to the asteroid belt where it plans to perform another flyby on an intriguing space rock dubbed MU69 in early 2019.
Image Source: Wikimedia