Ana Iarina Popa and Ana Maria Ceausoglu

Ana Iarina Popa and Ana Maria Ceausoglu

School: Gymnasium School no. 49

City: Bucharest

Topic: Charon


Charon - A Moon Worth Investigating

Hi, NASA!

Planets and their moons are a very interesting topic. My favorite is the dwarf planet Pluto, which I personally prefer because it received its name (in 1930) from an 11-year-old girl. I have liked this name since I was a child. Her name was Venetia Burney, and her idea was to name the newly-discovered planet after the Roman god of the underworld. The Lowell Observatory accepted this name, and also named Pluto’s 5 moons for other mythological figures of the underworld. The biggest in size is Charon, bearing the name of the river Styx boatman who carried souls into the underworld. New Horizons, the first mission of NASA’s New Frontiers program, studied the planet Pluto – found in a remote region of our solar system, between 30 and 50 AU from the Sun (AU, or Astronomical Unit, is the unit of distance, approximately equal to the mean distance between Earth and Sun).

Artist's rendering of Charon and New Horizon
I find it fascinating that time is different in space than it is on Earth: a year on Pluto is 248 Earth years, while a day on this planet equals 6 Earth days (153 hours, more exactly). Its atmosphere is made of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide, which give it a blue tint – so it is also beautiful. It has no fewer than 5 moons, of which Charon is the largest.

Charon is just as fascinating as Pluto. Generally, moons are much smaller than the planets they are attached to, but not Charon. Actually, it is 51 % the size of Pluto (and compared to the Earth, it is 10.6 times smaller. In its turn, Pluto is known as a dwarf planet because it is half the size of the Earth’s moon). Charon and Pluto are considered to form a planet system together. This means that Charon doesn’t really orbit Pluto, instead, both Pluto and Charon orbit a common center of gravity. They probably collided with each other, in the past, and now the attraction of Charon is so great that it makes Pluto wobble.

Charon was discovered on June 22, 1978 by James Christie. Pluto can be seen with 10-inch telescopes, but Charon is too small and faint to be seen with amateur telescopes, so only professional astronomers can see it.

Its surface, with steep cliffs and a huge canyon near its equator, is covered in ice. The canyon is so deep, that Mount Everest could fit in. Charon also has active ice volcanos and ice geysers! This is very interesting, because organic materials have also been found on its surface, and together they suggest that some form of life could be possible (although not life as we know it, because the temperature is extremely cold, between - 228 and – 238 degrees Celsius).

This is why I think Charon is worth exploring. Scientists hope to find alternative forms of life, even if no one could imagine what they are like. Good luck finding them, NASA!"

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