Scientists identify a possible source of Charon’s red mantle

SwRI scientists identify a possible source of Charon's red cap

Southwest Research Institute scientists have combined data from NASA’s New Horizons mission with new lab experiments and extra-atmospheric modeling to reveal the possible makeup of the red mantle on Pluto’s moon Charon and how it formed. The new findings suggest that intense seasonal elevations in Charon’s thin atmosphere combined with light that refracts the condensing methane frost may be key to understanding the origins of Charon’s red polar regions. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/SwRI

Southwest Research Institute scientists have combined data from NASA’s New Horizons mission with new lab experiments and extra-atmospheric modeling to reveal the possible makeup of the red mantle on Pluto’s moon Charon and how it formed. This first-ever description of Charon’s dynamic methane atmosphere using new experimental data provides a fascinating glimpse into the origins of this moon’s red spot as described in two recent papers.

“Before New Horizons, the best Hubble images of Pluto revealed a hazy mass of reflected light,” said Randy Gladstone of SwRI, a member of the New Horizons science team. “In addition to all the remarkable features that have been detected on Pluto’s surface, a flyby of the sea revealed an unusual feature of Charon, a stunning red mantle resting on its surface. North Pole. “

Shortly after the 2015 encounter, New Horizons scientists suggested that a reddish “tholin-like” substance in Charon’s plume could be synthesized by UV light Collapse methane molecules. It is captured after escaping from Pluto and then frozen in the polar regions of the Moon during the long winter nights. Thuleine is a sticky organic residue consisting of chimical interaction Powered by light, in this case, Lyman’s alpha ultraviolet glow is scattered by interplanetary hydrogen molecules.

Dr Ojwal Raut of SwRI, lead author of the research paper “Sharon Refractory Factory” said in the journal science progress. “This is one of the most illustrative and clear examples of surface-atmospheric interactions so far observed in a planetary body.”

The team realistically replicated Charon’s surface conditions at SwRI’s new Center for Laboratory Astrophysics and Space Science Experiments (CLASSE) to measure the composition and color of hydrocarbons produced in Charon’s winter hemisphere while methane freezes under the Lyman-alpha glow. The team inserted measurements into a new atmospheric model of Charon to show methane decaying into residue in the Arctic Charon Spot.

“Our team’s new ‘photodynamic decomposition’ experiments presented new frontiers in the contribution of interplanetary Lyman-alpha to the composition of red Charon,” said Raut. very high vacuum chamber under exposure to Lyman alpha photons to accurately replicate conditions at the Charon electrodes.”

SwRI scientists have also developed new computer simulations to model Charon’s thin methane atmosphere.

Dr. Ben Tewlis, lead author of a related research paper titled “Sharon’s Extreme Exosphere Dynamics: Implications for the Red Spot” said in Geophysical Research Letters.

The team inserted results from ultra-realistic SwRI experiments into an atmospheric model to estimate the distribution of complex hydrocarbons arising from methane decomposition under the influence of ultraviolet light. The pattern contains polar regions that generate mainly ethane, a colorless substance that does not contribute to the formation of a reddish tint.

“We believe that ionizing radiation from solar wind It decomposes polar frosts cooked with alpha lymans to create more complex and redder substances responsible for the unique whiteness on this mysterious moon. “Ethane is less volatile than methane and remains frozen on the surface of Charon long after spring sunrise. Exposure to solar winds may convert ethane into permanent reddish surface deposits that contribute to Charon’s red mantle.”

“The team is set to investigate the role of the solar wind in shaping the Red Pole,” said Dr. Josh Kamer of SwRI, who has ongoing support from NASA’s New Frontier Data Analysis Program.


Pluto paints its largest moon, Charon, red


more information:
Ben Teolis et al, Charon’s extreme exosphere dynamics: implications for the red spot, Geophysical Research Letters (2022). doi: 10.1029/2021GL097580

Ujwal Raut et al., Sharon Refractories Factory, science progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abq5701

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