Pluto's moon Charon may have had subsurface ocean

Images from New Horizons suggest Pluto's moon Charon may have had an ancient ocean.

Pluto's moon Charon may have had subsurface ocean
Image credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Washington: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been helping scientists in solving some long-unravelled mysteries of the dwarf planet pluto.

The Pluto probe, following historic flyby of the dwarf planet, has amazed the humankind in the past few months by releasing some never-before-seen photos of the planet apart from delivering science data.

And this time around, the spacecraft has made another revelation about the icy planet – an ancient ocean on Charon, the largest of the five known moons of the dwarf planet Pluto.

Images from New Horizons suggest that Pluto’s moon Charon once had a subsurface ocean that has long since frozen and expanded, pushing outward and causing the moon’s surface to stretch and fracture on a massive scale, according to NASA.

Charon's outer layer is primarily water ice. This layer was kept warm when Charon was young by heat provided by the decay of radioactive elements, as well as Charon’s own internal heat of formation.

Scientists say Charon could have been warm enough to cause the water ice to melt deep down, creating a subsurface ocean. But as the moon cooled over time, this ocean would have frozen and expanded.

While the top portion of the image shows part of the feature informally named Serenity Chasma, - part of a vast equatorial belt of chasms on Charon - the lower portion of the photo highlights color-coded topography of the same scene.

This image was obtained by the New Horizons' Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at a range of approximately 48,900 miles from Charon, about an hour and 40 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Charon on July 14, 2015.