Ancient Subsurface Ocean Could Have Flowed on Pluto's
Pluto's moon Charon may have once had subterranean oceans of liquid water, something the U.S. space agency
The notion that there could have been liquid water on a body 29 times further away from the sun than Earth seems far fetched given the surface temperature on Charon is minus 229 Celsius, but
This phenomenon is believed to be the reason for potential subsurface oceans of liquid water on Jupiter's moon Europa (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Jup_Europa) and Saturn's moon
"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
Charon is the largest moon in the solar system relative to its planet (dwarf planet (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/what-is-pluto-k4.html#.U59G5XdQh5Y) in Pluto's case), with one-eighth of Pluto's mass. Scientists think it was formed after an impact on Pluto caused debris to orbit and gather into several moons.
Researchers said that when Charon initially formed, the gravity between the two bodies would have been enough to cause "their surfaces to bulge toward each other, generating friction in their interiors."
"Depending on exactly how Charon's orbit evolved, particularly if it went through a high-eccentricity phase, there may have been enough heat from tidal deformation to maintain liquid water beneath the surface of Charon for some time," said Rhoden. "Using plausible interior structure models that include an ocean, we found it wouldn't have taken much eccentricity to generate surface fractures like we are seeing on Europa."
However, the days of liquid water on Charon, if they ever existed, are long over.
The moon's orbit is now circular and slower, researchers said. Plus, only one side of Charon faces Pluto. Together this would mean that no significant gravitational tides would be generated thus causing any would-be ocean to freeze.
"We're looking forward very much to exploring this planet and its satellite system for the first time next year with New Horizons to see what they are really like," he wrote.
Rhoden's research appears in the online journal Icarus (http://www.journals.elsevier.com/icarus/).
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