spaceSpace and Physics

New Horizons Returns Stunning Image Of Charon That Includes A "Mountain In A Moat"


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

1176 New Horizons Returns Stunning Image Of Charon That Includes A "Mountain In A Moat"
Inset is the new close-up image of Charon's surface. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The Pluto news just keeps on coming. Fresh off the back of icy mountains on Pluto, a new image has revealed fascinating features on its largest moon, Charon. 

The image shows a region about 390 kilometers (240 miles) in length from top to bottom at the day and night border of the moon, known as the terminator. Studying terminators is important as they can show how light reflects on certain features, revealing more about their characteristics. 


The most interesting part of this image is a depression located towards the top, where a peak can be seen rising out of it. NASA’s Jeff Moore, who leads New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, said in a statement that it looked like a “large mountain sitting in a moat.” He added: “This is a feature that has geologists stunned and stumped."

New Horizons took the image from a distance of 79,000 kilometers (49,000 miles) from Charon at 6:30 a.m. EDT (11:30 a.m. BST) on July 14, 2015, as it flew past the dwarf planet Pluto and its surrounding system. It was taken using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on the spacecraft.

The view is a snippet of the sort of detail we can expect as New Horizons continues to send back data over the next 16 months. Once all the data has been returned, it will be possible to get high-resolution maps of the entire faces of Pluto and Charon that were observed by the spacecraft.

And in fact, those later views should be even clearer. This image was heavily compressed to get it back to Earth soon after the flyby to show the public. Later images will be sharper and clear when the entire data are returned by New Horizons. Several more images will be beamed back by the spacecraft over the next few days, before the team shifts its focus to scientific data until mid-September.


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