Diya. V.S

Year: 2019-20

Diya. V.S

Grade: 6

School: Christ Nagar International School

City: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Topic: Charon

Neil Armstrong once said, "Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to explore." Charon, a mysterious moon is around half the size and one-eighth the mass of its planet, Pluto. The duo is sometimes considered a double-dwarf planetary system. Charon orbits Pluto every 6.4 earth days, which is also equivalent to Pluto’s rotation period. Here are some of Charon’s features which make me want to explore it.

Charon’s surface is made of water ice, unlike Pluto’s surface which is made of nitrogen and methane ice. Due to ammonia and water crystals present on the surface, there is also suspected cyrovolcanic activity which is yet to be confirmed. Charon has several canyons, the deepest of which, Agra chasm is estimated to be 9 kilometres deep and could have cliffs that could be the tallest cliffs in the Solar system. We still don’t know yet, since these cliffs have never been explored by spacecraft.

Artist's view of New Horizon and Charon
​In my opinion Charon’s unique features are its reddish-brown poles and a bright band at the equator. This is believed to have formed from gases that escaped Pluto’s atmosphere and condensed on its surface. These gases, when faced with solar radiation, react and form tholins. When Charon has summer again, these gases sublimate and leave the tholins behind. Over the years, these form a thick layer, masking the ice underneath. This reddish area is called Mordor. These tholins, in the presence of water, after thousands of years, allow primordial soup (conditions for life to begin) to form. It is also speculated that tholin and water-rich comets that struck the earth provided raw materials for life on earth. When in the atmosphere, tholins also scatter ultraviolet radiation, which impacts habitability. In laboratory simulations, these conditions yielded amino acids and urea, two important biological compounds. Soil bacteria have been shown to use tholins as their carbon source and are speculated to be the energy source of microscopic life before photosynthetic life evolved. With that said, it is highly possible that microscopic life could linger below the Mordor or perhaps deeper in the surface layer.

Humans have only observed one side of Charon. It is possible that the other side harbours life or may have the beginnings of it. It is likely that life had existed on Charon before mankind or even life on earth as we know it existed. Life could already exist here, but lack of exploration has kept this from our knowledge.

We have spent years trying to find another planet that harbours life, a hypothetical ‘second earth’. We have looked far beyond our solar system, never once have we speculated that a moon and that too in our own solar system could be this ‘second earth’. I feel that this very prospect of finding life in the solar system is a compelling reason to explore Charon."

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