Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Published: December 5, 2019

NASA JPL Software Engineer Melissa Soriano describes the third potential target for Scientist for a Day contestants: Pluto's moon Charon.

Scientist for a Day challenges students in grades 5-12 to think like scientists. Examine real spacecraft images of Uranus’ moon Miranda, Neptune’s moon Triton, and Pluto’s moon Charon. Choose the destination you think would be the best place to return with another spacecraft to learn even more about these amazing worlds. Support your choice in an essay of no more than 500 words.



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>> Hi, my name is Melissa and I'm a software engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

I studied electrical and computer engineering at Caltech, and my job is to design software for telecommunication systems, helping spacecraft send their data to scientists and engineers on Earth.

I think the best moon to explore is Charon, the largest moon of Pluto. We learned what this moon looks like only recently when NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in 2015. Images show the surface of Charon is mostly covered by water ice, we saw steep cliffs in a giant canyon near the equator that stretches more than 600 miles. Scientists also found organic materials on its icy surface. These are the building blocks of life, although it doesn't prove that there's life on Charon because it is very, very far from the Sun, so it's very cold there.

According to one theory, Charon and Pluto may have collided a long time ago and Charon began orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto, while most moons are much smaller than the planet they orbit, Charon is so large compared to Pluto that it pulls on it and makes it wobble. I think the most interesting moon is Charon, we only saw one side of the Moon up close as NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by. The other side might have equally interesting features that make it a fascinating place.

I hope you choose Charon and write about why you think it's the best choice to explore further, we can't wait to read your essay.


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