Jade Thompson

Year: 2019-20

Jade Thompson

School: Deep Creek Middle School

Grade: 8

Teacher: Nell Herrmann

City: Eleuthera

Target: Charon

"When I was born in 2006, Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. I didn't learn of these events until nine years later when I was in fourth grade and the New Horizons spacecraft photographed Pluto and its moons. Even though it is now considered a dwarf planet, Pluto still intrigues me and so do its moons. The moon Charon is particularly intriguing.

Artist's view of Voyager 2 at Miranda
​In 1978, Charon was discovered by Jim Christy while he was looking at images of Pluto taken by a space telescope. Christy noticed an asymmetrical bump orbiting around the planet and, after a while, he realized that Pluto had a moon. He named it Charon after his wife, Charlene, and the Greek ferryman Charon, who would carry souls across the River Styx to be judged by Pluto, the God of the underworld.

More recently, in 2015, New Horizons spacecraft flew by Charon revealing so many new and interesting secrets. For instance, Charon is a large moon; it’s half the size of Pluto. Because of its size, Charon exerts a gravitational pull on Pluto and makes it wobble. Charon and Pluto also orbit the same centre of gravity, referred to as a double dwarf system. But this double dwarf system is unique, because the same sides of Pluto and Charon always face each other, a phenomenon called tidal locking.

Some of Charon’s topographical features include its massive canyon near its equator, which may wrap itself the whole way around the moon. If NASA further explored Charon, then we would know for sure. Charon also has mountains, steep cliffs and cryovolcanoes that spew methane water and ammonia. One of NASA’s theories involves an internal water ocean that froze. Scientists believe that this may be why the moon’s surface is fractured.

A question NASA scientists have is: would it be possible for life to thrive on Charon? Along with water, there is evidence of organic compounds on the moon. Could life have adapted to such cold circumstances? Pluto is 3,670,050,000 miles from the sun and Charon is an additional 12,200 miles from Pluto. This makes Charon extremely cold, at a temperature between negative 433 and negative 351 degrees Fahrenheit. As a comparison, the lowest recorded temperature on Earth was negative 129 degrees Fahrenheit. This was recorded in 1983 at Vostok Station in Antarctica.

I believe that NASA scientists should not only explore Charon because of the science behind it, but also because of the raw beauty of the moon itself. Charon holds a beautiful palette of siennas, slivers, and greys that are simply enthralling. As an admirer of mythology, I also appreciate the story behind its name and how it all comes into play. I love the fact that Charon and Pluto are forever identified with each other in the myths and in space. Ultimately, who can resist the puzzling secrets that Charon might have in store? "

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