The science team of NASA’s New Horizons mission has produced this global map of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. The map includes all available resolved images of the surface acquired between 7-14 July 2015, at pixel resolutions ranging from 40 kilometres (24 miles) on the anti-Pluto facing hemisphere (left and right sides of the map), to 400 metres (1,250 feet) per pixel on portions of the Pluto-facing hemisphere – the side facing the New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past the dwarf planet – at map centre. Many additional images now stored on the spacecraft’s digital data recorders are expected to be transmitted “home” in later this year and these will be used to complete the global map. The map is in simple cylindrical projection, with zero longitude (the Pluto-facing direction) in the centre.
It is almost five months since New Horizons’ epic encounter with Pluto, but the captured images and data will stream back to Earth across 3 billion miles of interplanetary space for a further 11 months. The first in a series of the best close-ups of the dwarf planet that humans may see for decades have been released, obtained when the spacecraft was just 15 minutes before closest approach during the 14 July flyby.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this stunning image mere minutes after closest approach on 14 July 2015. Seen here, sunlight filters through and illuminates Pluto’s complex atmospheric haze layers over portions of the nitrogen ice plains informally named Sputnik Planum, as well as mountains of the informally named Norgay Montes.