Space scientists managing the New Horizons spacecraft have caught sight of a crater on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon; and incidentally, the features of the newly discovered crater look very similar to those found on Pluto, a neighboring planet.
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Having given the name “Organa” to the crater, scientists saw it while analyzing high-resolution infrared images of Charon. Both Organa and the regions around it revealed infrared absorption of wavelengths equal to 2.2 microns, meaning that Organa crater is full of frozen ammonia, something that is peculiar to Pluto’s biggest moon.
A further examination of the infrared spectrum of the Skywalker crater which is close to Organa corresponds to what can be seen on the surface and craters of Charon, even though they are largely dominated by water ice.
Ammonia absorption in Charon was first seen in 2000 when scientists used telescopes to view it, and the level of thickness of the ammonia remains impressive ever since.
"Why are these two similar-looking and similar-sized craters, so near to each other, so compositionally distinct?" asked Will Grundy, New Horizons Composition team lead from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. "We have various ideas when it comes to the ammonia in Organa. The crater could be younger, or perhaps the impact that created it hit a pocket of ammonia-rich subsurface ice. Alternatively, maybe Organa’s impactor delivered its own ammonia."
The size of the two craters are more or less the same, about 5 km or 3 miles in diameter, and they have the same features, among these are ejecta or rays of ejected material. The only variation is that Organa has a darker ejecta in its central region, but scientists have reasons to believe the ammonia materials at the spot go far beyond this dark area.
“This is a fantastic discovery,” said Bill McKinnon, deputy lead for the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from Washington University in St. Louis.
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“Concentrated ammonia is a powerful antifreeze on icy worlds, and if the ammonia really is from Charon’s interior, it could help explain the formation of Charon’s surface by cryovolcanism, via the eruption of cold, ammonia-water magmas.”