Ahana Tajnim Khan
School: DPS STS School
"Humans have always wondered whether there were different forms of life beyond Earth since ancient times. Through centuries of research and exploration beyond Earth, humans still haven’t found any presence of extraterrestrial life. Searching for extraterrestrial/alien life has always been a fundamental factor in cosmic exploration. Thus, Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, caught my interest as scientists see some possibility of life in Charon.
Charon, being the largest out of the 5 moons of Pluto, is characterized with a frigid surface covered with water ice, methane and nitrogen ice. Charon, being more than half the size of Pluto, is so large compared to its parent body that its gravitational pull makes Pluto wobble. Because of this Pluto-Charon are called the double dwarf planets, being the only double planetary system known in the solar system.
Earth’s geology is powered by the movement of huge plates of Earth’s crust floating on the taffy mantle, crashing against one another. Certain features on Charon seemed to have formed in the same way,
according to what Ross Beyer and his colleagues found while using data from the New Horizons Spacecraft. Charon had a process like Earth's plate tectonics beneath its surface, driven by a freezing ice
core that expanded and cracked the moon’s crust. The researchers found there were fissures that looked a lot like seafloor-spreading zones or rift valleys on Earth and saw depressed blocks of the surface surrounded by graven and scarps, where one piece of land had moved vertically relative to the other. The plates of Earth will always collide somewhere as two plates move apart (as Earth is a sphere), but on Charon there were no signs of mountain building, only the extensional features, according to researchers. Further exploration will allow us to understand the reason behind this unearthly phenomenon.
Charon once had a liquid mantle underneath its mostly water ice crust. When the ice froze, it expanded, Charon's crust had to stretch and crack to accommodate that expansion (unlike Earth where usually melted rock will shrink when it becomes a solid) said the planetary scientists. When the planet was younger, the water was probably kept liquid by heat from radioactive elements and Charon itself, as it formed. If Charon was warm enough to cause water to melt below the surface, it may have created an ocean. As the space rock cooled, the ocean froze and expanded.
Water is known to be an important factor for finding life. Charon’s surface being mostly water ice and the possibility of having an ocean in the past and having similar features like Earth indicates that Charon might as well be the only other place that has life except for Earth. Though Charon has very low temperatures that work against us finding life on Charon, further research and exploration can lead us to understand more about the universe we live in and also help us solve one of the most fundamental mysteries that humans have asked about since ancient times."