Amira Livia Sauciuc, Radu Lucian Farcas, Iustin Gheorghita and Andrei Mircea Lupuleasa

Amira Livia Sauciuc, Radu Lucian Farcas, Iustin Gheorghita and Andrei Mircea Lupuleasa

School: Colegiul National

City: Iasi

Topic: Charon

"Charon is Pluto’s largest moon, the first to be discovered on June 22, 1978, by astronomer James Christy. Being 10.6 times smaller than Earth, this satellite is almost half the size of its primary and has a surface gravity of 0.283m/s2. Other information regarding its physical characteristics and orbit have been gathered by the New Horizon spacecraft while it journeyed past the dwarf planet. With this knowledge in mind, should future projects explore further into this moon or should it be discarded from the priority list?

Artist's rendering of Charon and New Horizon
Firstly, Charon’s profile lacks clear information about its atmosphere, chemical composition and even half of its surface, as it was not photographed by New Horizon. The discoveries done until now suggest the presence of water and ammonia hydrates in solid state at the surface level and liquid state below it. Certain theories imply the existence of a rocky core, representing almost 55% of the moon’s weight. The giant red area situated at the North Pole appears to consist of tholins, large polymer-like organic compounds formed by solar ultraviolet irradiation or cosmic rays from simple carbon-containing compounds. Through experimentation, tholins near large pools of liquid water seem to improve the chances of prebiotic chemistry to form. Moreover, they represent a viable source of carbon for a wide variety of bacteria from Earth’s soil.

Secondly, due to its large size, Charon could have been considered a dwarf planet, just like its primary. However, it is orbiting Pluto, with which forms a binary system that spins around a gravitational axis outside of their respective surfaces. Not only is this a rare and under-researched phenomenon, but, in this case, it comes together with a case of tidal lock, a unique relative position where the two bodies keep the same face toward each other. Its proximity to Earth, it being the only binary planet in our solar system, makes it the greatest source of information regarding this topic. Until now, this kind of knowledge was gathered through presumptions and deep space observations, which have not been totally reliable.

However, regardless of the lack of information, there are certain hopes and probable assumptions that could be made. Charon, with its position in the universe, as well as its characteristics, may hide some of the deepest secrets of the universe. As mentioned earlier, there are hints that this moon could have an internal water-ice ocean today. Moreover, a lower than predicted atmospheric escape rate forced scientists to fundamentally revise earlier models concerning Pluto and its satellites. As such, there is a slight probability that forms of life will be discovered there, but if not, the data collected may provide information regarding unknown chemical materials or a type of extinct organism.

To conclude, Charon should represent a true priority for long-term space programs, as its mysterious origin and unique characteristics certainly offer the opportunity to better the understanding of its history and the beginning of life."

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