The Icy River Styx
Pluto and its moon Charon imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. An article in this week’s Astrophysical Journal reports that water issues from Charon’s interior into Space. Our Gemini North Telescope atop Mauna Kea found spectra of ammonia hydrates and water. These spectra point to cryovulcanism within Charon. Liquid water exists inside this distant moon and is escaping into Space.
Pluto was king of the underworld, and Charon was the ferryman carrying souls across the River Styx. At one time Pluto was considered the outermost planet. Now we know that Pluto and Charon mark the beginning of a Kuiper Belt containing hundreds of objects. Some of these objects are bigger than Pluto itself, causing its demotion to a minor planet. Other Kuiper Belt objects could also contain liquid water.
Previously the Cassini spacecraft observed water erupting from the Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The explanation for Enceladus has been tidal forces, even though that moon is too distant from Saturn for tides to be a factor. In the case of Charon, the old idea of “radioactive decay” has been exhumed. As far as is known there are almost no radioactive elements in the outer Solar System.
The Big Bang created billions of tiny Black Holes. They could have formed the seeds of clusters, galaxies and even smaller objects. When our solar system was just a cloud of gas, these tiny Black Holes seeded the planets and even some moons. These singularities are too tiny to swallow everything up, but they generate heat to warm planetary interiors.
Liquid water within Charon is direct evidence of internal heat. The most likely heat source for Charon, Enceladus and outer solar system bodies is a tiny Black Hole. Heat from these objects could support life, even in interstellar Space. Kuiper Belt objects and even brown dwarfs are potential homes of extraterrestrial life.
The new Carnival of Space is out with posts about the Solar System and beyond!