Pluto Paints Charon Red


full-res-charonThe New Horizons spacecraft took this high-resolution, enhanced color photo of Pluto’s largest moon Charon just before closest approach on 14 July, 2015. This image was created by combining blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. It’s been processed to highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. The reddish material in the north (top) polar region (informally known as Mordor Macula) is methane that has escaped from Pluto’s atmosphere and been captured by Charon. Charon is 1,214 km across, and this image resolves details as small as 2.9 km.

Image Credit: NASA

Pluto and Its Moons


Most moons in the solar system are tidally locked and keep one face pointed toward their central planet. Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, behaves this way,  but Pluto’s four small moons behave like spinning tops. Pluto is shown at center of this animation with, in order, from smaller to wider orbit: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Hydra.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei5aF6Bw56E]

Video Credit: NASA

Flying Over Charon


Images from the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager were used to create this flyover video of Pluto’s largest moon Charon. The Gentle Viewer will note that one of the surface features is labeled as a “planet-wide canyon.” The Pluto/Charon system is really a double planet. In fact, if Charon were off by itself, it would be counted as a dwarf planet in its own right. It’s diameter is bit over 600 km, about 28% greater than that of Ceres.

The flight begins about 1,800 km over Mordor, a dark region near Charon’s north pole and then moves south to a vast canyon, descending to only 60 km altitude to fly through the canyon system. Next, it turns south to view the plains and “moat mountain” named Kubrick Mons, a prominent peak surrounded by a topographic depression. BTW, Mordor and Kubrick Mons are working names give to these features by the mission science team. They aren’t official yet.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrMBzJcvtt0]

Video Credit: NASA

Charon’s Red Pole


nh-charonThis image of Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, was assembled using data taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager. It was taken July 13, 2015, from a distance of 466,000 km and combined with color information from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument taken the same day. The marking in Charon’s north polar region appears to be a thin deposit of some dark material over a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; we should learn more by studying higher-resolution images still being slowly transmitted back from the spacecraft.

Image Credit: NASA

More Pluto


nh-7-1-15_pluto_charonNew color images from the New Horizons spacecraft show two very different sides of the Pluto. One has a series of evenly spaced spots along the equator, each about the size of the state of Missouri. While the origin of the spots is a mystery for now, the answer may be revealed as the spacecraft continues its approach to the dwarf planet.

The pictures above were generated by combining black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with lower-resolution color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views. The planet and its largest moon are shown in approximately true color as they would appear to someone riding on the spacecraft.

Image Credit: NASA