Pluto is seen from the Hubble Space Telescope in a handout photo. (Reuters image)
WASHINGTON: Even as Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft gears up to visit Pluto and its giant moon Charon next year, researchers predicted different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon that could point towards underground liquid water — a necessary ingredient for life.
If the icy surface of Pluto's giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a sub-terranean ocean of liquid water, the findings showed.
"This research gives us a head start on the New Horizons arrival — what should we look for and what can we learn from it," said Alyssa Rhoden of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.
"Our model predicts different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon depending on the thickness of its surface ice, the structure of the moon's interior and how easily it deforms, and how its orbit evolved," Rhoden added.
Pluto is an extremely distant world, orbiting the sun more than 29 times farther than earth.
"Depending on exactly how Charon's orbit evolved, particularly if it went through a high-eccentricity phase, there may have been enough heat from tidal deformation to maintain liquid water beneath the surface of Charon for some time," Rhoden noted.