NASA Finds "Hulk-Like" Ancient Ocean Burst Through Charon's Surface

Friday, 19 February 2016 - 12:39PM
Space
Solar System
Friday, 19 February 2016 - 12:39PM
NASA Finds "Hulk-Like" Ancient Ocean Burst Through Charon's Surface
NASA's New Horizons probe is learning more and more about Pluto every day, as well as its largest moon, Charon. According to the newest analysis of the New Horizons images, Charon may have had a subterranean ocean that froze and burst through the surface, Incredible Hulk-style (but without the benefit of infinitely expanding underwear). 

New Horizons' historic Pluto flyby last summer caught a glimpse of one side of Pluto's moon, and NASA researchers have observed evidence of "pulling-apart" tectonic faults, in the form of ridges, scarps, and valleys. The image seen below shows the Serenity Chasma, a deep fault that runs approximately 1,100 kilometers across the surface, which makes it almost four times longer than the Grand Canyon.
Charon

The faults are extremely deep, reaching up to 4.5 miles below the surface, indicating that at some point in its history, the moon went through a significant and traumatic expansion. The outer layer of Charon's surface is composed mostly of water ice, so researchers theorize that in Charon's early life, so billions of years ago, the atmosphere warmed enough to melt the water ice and then cooled again, freezing the subsurface ocean. Water expands when it freezes, so this would have caused the ocean to grow in size and breach the outermost layers of the moon, creating huge chasms on the surface.

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"Pluto's largest moon may have gotten too big for its own skin," NASA wrote. "Charon's tectonic landscape shows that, somehow, the moon expanded in its past, and – like Bruce Banner tearing his shirt as he becomes the Incredible Hulk – Charon's surface fractured as it stretched."
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