Pluto’s moon Charon has a lot of mysterious features. Now, a study published in Nature analyzes the moon from every angle.
For Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon, winter’s always there. The polar night can span for the duration of a century, with very low temperatures. Astronomer Will Grundy from the Lowell Observatory believes that a mix of long winters, gases which escape Pluto’s atmosphere and radiation from the sun can lead to the moon’s mysterious dark red area which covers the North Pole of the moon.
The red patch which lies over the North Pole is the only bit of color over the ball of water ice. Before, astronomers wondered about how Charon and Pluto coexist.
During a New Horizons mission flyby, in last July, some of these questions were answered. Apparently, Pluto can’t keep its atmosphere, as it is a dwarf planet, not strong enough to keep its gases when solar winds blow. This makes methane disperse in the atmosphere and hit Charon. Charon doesn’t have an atmosphere of its own either.
However, Charon’s gravity can attract some of the gases. Around the north pole, it gets so cold, that methane is trapped. The methane then chemically reacts with the ice water and the cosmic and solar radiation, resulting in the red spot – among others.
Scientists have discovered that the mixture resulted on Charon is called tholins. They have been recreated on Earth in the last 40 years and they are red. Apparently, when oxygens, carbons, nitrogens and hydrogens react, the material known as tholin takes shape.
Some experiments with tholin showed it can form amino-acids, the building blocks of life. Other experiments have concluded that Earth bacteria eat the mixture and thrive in it.
Could this mean that Charon can support life? Dale Cruikshank, an astronomer and planetary scientist from NASA just calls it “a connection to pre-biology.”
Another finding of the dwarf planet study revealed that it emits X-rays. Previously, scientists only knew that Saturn gives out X-rays. Now, Pluto joined that select club. The source of the X-rays on Pluto is not known yet.
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Image Source – Wikipedia