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.
This image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft focuses on a section of the informally named Serenity Chasma, part of a vast equatorial belt of chasms on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Scientists believe that Charon’s subsurface water-ice layer may have been partially liquid in its early history, and has since refrozen, expanded and pushed the surface outward, producing the massive chasms we see today.
The New Horizons team described a wide range of findings about the Pluto system in its first research paper published today — just three months after NASA’s historic first exploration of the dwarf planet. New Horizons has revealed a degree of diversity and complexity on Pluto and its moons that few expected in the frigid outer reaches of the solar system.
Scientists planning the the next phase of NASA’s New Horizons mission, a robotic craft that completed the first exploration of Pluto in 2015, are going into the flyby of a frozen, faraway city-sized clump of rock on New Year’s Day 2019 armed with little knowledge of the target lurking around 4 billion miles from Earth.