Previously the consensus was that the cracks that formed on icy moons such as Charon, are the result of geodynamical activity, plate tectonics for example. A model developed by University of Rochester scientists provides us with a different cause of the formation of cracks on icy moons. The model suggests that an encounter with a second body might be behind the cracks. Once an icy moon encounters a second body the tidal pull exerted by this body is sufficiently strong to cause the formation of cracks on the icy moon's surface. Mars has similar cracks on its surface, but since Mars is a much more complicated object to analyse – the newly developed model isn't ideal.
A new model developed by University of Rochester researchers could offer a new explanation as to how cracks on icy moons, such as Pluto’s Charon, formed.
Until now, it was thought that the cracks were the result of geodynamical processes, such as plate tectonics, but the models run by Alice Quillen and her collaborators suggest that a close encounter with another body might have been the cause.
Astronomers have long known that the craters visible on moons were caused by the impact of other bodies, billions of years ago. But for every crash and graze, there would have been many more close encounters. By devising and running a new computer model, Quillen, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rochester, has now shown that the tidal pull exerted by another, similar object could be strong enough to crack the surface of such icy moons. Quillen also thinks that “it might even offer a possible explanation for the crack on Mars, but that’s much harder to model.”
Read the full press release here.