(Mirror Daily, United States) – It doesn’t take great debate to know that 2015 was a good year for Pluto. What with NASA’s new high-definition images of the wannabe planet, Pluto has enjoyed the public’s attention for quite some time – even making it into memes!
However, Pluto needs to move over, because now is Charon’s time to shine. Thanks to the same close flyby on July 14 when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took the impressive imagery of Pluto, we are gifted with some never-seen-before photos of the dwarf planet’s largest moon Charon.
Expecting to find a long-dead realm pierced by craters, scientists were wildly surprised by reality. According to NASA’s press release on the matter, the moon seems to have been formed during a “surprisingly complex and violent history.”
And it’s easy to understand this language when Charon’s surface is so geologically diverse; the moon is host to high mountains, a fiery north pole and a 1,000-mile-wide canyon that scars Charon’s Pluto-facing side, and perhaps along to the other side.
We have a Grand Canyon of ourselves on Earth, but estimations say Charon’s is roughly four times longer than this one, and twice as deep in a couple of places. A new animation has accompanied the recently released pictures, allowing viewers an eerie experience of a flyover of Charon. The deep canyon and one of the tallest mountains are featured in the animation in new detail.
According to John Spencer, a New Horizons scientist, the formation of the big canyons could easily be explained by a deep breaking in Charon’s crust due to stretching. Similar results of this process have been observed in other places as well, including Earth.
But it’s not as easy for scientists to explain the smoother parts of Pluto’s moon, such as the Vulcan Planum. Spencer’s theory is that the younger-looking surface is the result of some kind of icy volcanic activity. In this scenario, NASA suspects that sometime in Charon’s history, a subsurface water ocean had frozen, causing the moon’s surface to crack for the spewing water.
Similar features could be observed on some of the moons of Uranus, but Spencer said that these Charon images offer a lot more detail on what goes on below and over the surface. The larger fractures may point to a past slight expansion in size sometime, but this is just a theory at the moment.
Scientists are awaiting some more higher-resolution images of Charon to be downloaded from New Horizons’ board, but those will be processed and released only in 2016. The spacecraft is currently hurling at more than 3 billion miles away from Earth.
Image Source: USA News