Landslides On Pluto’s Moon, Charon, Discovered By NASA’s New Horizons
For the first time ever, NASA's New Horizons mission spotted evidence of landslides on Pluto's moon, Charon. This geological feature has never been observed in the Kuiper belt previously. Kuiper belt is the region of rocky and icy bodies lying beyond Neptune's orbit. The landslides were spotted during the spacecraft's July 2015 flyby of Pluto.
"We've seen similar landslides on other rocky and icy planets, such as Mars and Saturn's moon Iapetus, but these are the first landslides we've seen this far from the sun, in the Kuiper Belt," Ross Beyer, science team researcher from Sagan Center, stated in a report by Universe Today. These findings were discussed during a press conference at the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences 2016 meeting in Pasadena. "The big question is will they be detected elsewhere in the Kuiper Belt?" Beyer added.
The cause of these landslides is unclear at the moment, but the possibilities include meteor impacts or tectonic activities underneath the surface. According to Space.com, there are four landslides that have been spotted in total, all in Serenity Chasma--a part of a vast belt of deep canyons surrounded by cliffs expanding up to 1,100 miles and reaching 4.5 miles in height. In those zones, scientists have observed that the materials have dropped down the cliffs vertically and then swept horizontally into the canyons.
The pictures of Serenity Chasma were captured by Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) of New Horizons on July 14, 2015. The cameras were at a distance of 48,912 miles (78,717 kilometers) from the exact position of landslide, according to Nature World News. Beyer said that though Pluto does not encounter landslides, it definitely has the materials that seem to be moving downhill, similar to rock falls.
As per the reports, scientists believe that the images are not high enough to provide a clear conclusion about the materials in these landslides. Though landslides have been discovered on several other icy bodies in the Solar System, it is for the first time that landslides have been discovered on an icy body in the Kuiper Belt.