During its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14, New Horizons spacecraft took a series of closeups of the dwarf planet and its moons and stored them on its recorders until it will manage to beam them back to Earth.
NASA scientists said that there are more than a dozen gigabytes of data to come from the probe, but the imagery that already reached our planet helped scientists learn more about the distant worlds. The latest image publicly released is that of the planet’s largest moon Charon.
Charon was named after the boatman that used to carry souls on his boat to the underworld, while Pluto is the Roman god-king of the underworld also known as Hades in Greek mythology.
New photos of Charon show that the remote moon is lumpier than scientists have thought. During the flyby, New Horizons was able to get as close at 17,000 miles of Charon’s surface.
Charon has puzzled scientists for decades because it is too small to be a planet and too large to be the moon of Pluto. Some researchers believe that Chraon and Pluto are two dwarf planets caught into a binary system as their orbits also suggest.
Before New Horizon’s flyby the images we had on Pluto were scarce, but Charon was even more veiled in mystery. Yet, the recent photos reveal a strange little world full of fascinating land forms.
Charon has carters, crater chains, mountains, and even a 1,000-mile-long canyon at its equator. The crater is as large as a newly found crater on Mars and four times longer than the Grand Canyon. Scientists cannot estimate just how deep it is.
Unfortunately, during its flyby New Horizons was able to take closeups only of one side of the moon. Researchers speculate that the huge canyon network may stretch to the other side, as well.
The plains on the southern hemisphere are incredibly smooth for the moon’s violent past. But the northern hemisphere is rugged. This means that Charon was more geologically active in recent past. Planetary geologists estimate that the moon was shaped by cyrovolcanism, or ice volcanoes’ activity. So, the finding challenges previous theories on how a distant moon like Charon should look and be like.
Scientists also suggest that there may be a huge ocean on the moon that froze and changed Charon’s volume and appearance. When water froze, the crust broke open leading to the formation of the moon’s mountains.
Image Source: The Whizzer