Charon Lit by Plutoshine

This image was taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera aboard New Horizons on 15 July, 2015, when the spacecraft was around 160,000 km beyond Pluto. It shows the night side the moon Charon against a star field. Charon, which about the size of Texas, is mostly lit by faint light reflected from Pluto. The bright crescent on Charon’s right edge is a bit of sunlit terrain, overexposed compared to the rest of the image.

Image Credits: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

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

The Following Planet is Brought to You in Living Color

First_colorThe first color movies from the New Horizons mission show Pluto and its largest moon Charon. Charon is relatively large compared to Pluto so that together are essentially a double planet.

Although the two movies were prepared from the same images, they show the Pluto-Charon pair from different perspectives. The top movie is “Pluto-centric.” Charon is shown as it moves in relation to Pluto which has been digitally centered in the movie. (The North Pole of Pluto is at the top.) Pluto makes one turn around its axis every 6 days, 9 hours and 17.6 minutes—the same amount of time that Charon rotates in its orbit. The shifts in Pluto’s brightness result from the brighter and darker terrains on its differing faces.

The second movie is barycentric. Pluto and Charon are shown in motion around the binary’s barycenter, the shared center of gravity between the two bodies. Because Pluto is much more massive than Charon, the barycenter (“X” marks the spot) is much closer to Pluto than to Charon.First_color_barycentricImage Credit: NASA

Pluto and Charon

nh_zoom_bary_03-finalNew Horizons is closing in on Pluto. These pictures were taken during the last week of January at a range of roughly 2,000,000 km. They show Pluto and Charon orbiting around their barycenter, a mutual point above Pluto’s surface where Pluto and Charon’s gravity cancels out—this is why Pluto appears to wobble in space.

Image Credit: NASA

Pluto and Charon

Hew Horizons 20150125The New Horizons spacecraft has returned its first new images of Pluto as the probe closes in on the dwarf planet. New Horizons was a bit more than 200 million km away from Pluto when it began taking pictures. The new images, taken with the spacecraft’s telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on 25 and 27 January. The spacecraft will fly by of Pluto and its moons in mid July.

Image Credit: NASA

Pluto and Charon

Pluto_Charon_NewHorizonsThe New Horizons spacecraft is en route to Pluto, and it has recently been able to image the planet’s largest moon Charon with one of its cameras. The New Horizons LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) composite image on the left shows Charon cleanly separated from Pluto itself. It’s an average of six different LORRI images, each taken with an exposure time of 0.1 second. When these images were taken on 1 July, 2013, the spacecraft was still about 880 million km from Pluto. On 14 July, 2015, New Horizons will pass within 12,500 km of Pluto’s surface. LORRI should be able to spot features about the size of a football field.

Image Credit: NASA

Pluto, Charon, Nix, and Hydra

Pluto and moonsThis picture shows the dwarf planet Pluto and three of its five moons. This Hubble image was originally black and white and recorded only overall brightness. Those brightness values were translated into a range of bluish hues. Such color maps can be useful in helping to distinguish subtly-varying brightness in an image. The colors in this image are not what human eyes would see looking at Pluto.

Image Credit: NASA