Images just sent back to Earth this week of Pluto’s tiny moon tiny Kerberos taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft complete the family portrait of Pluto’s moons. Kerberos has a double-lobed shape suggesting that it could have been formed by the merger of two smaller objects. It also appears to be smaller than scientists expected and has a highly-reflective surface, counter to predictions prior to the Pluto flyby in July.
Global stereo mapping of Pluto’s surface is now possible (requires red/blue glasses for viewing in 3-D), as images taken from multiple directions are downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Stereo images will eventually provide an accurate topographic map of most of the hemisphere of Pluto seen by New Horizons, which will be key to understanding the dwarf planet’s geological history.
The first colour images of Pluto’s atmospheric hazes returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft last week — seen here backlit by the Sun — reveal that the hazes are blue. Also, in a second significant finding, New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on the dwarf planet.
At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best colour and the highest resolution images yet of Charon, showing a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-colour variations and more — all evidence of a surprisingly complex and violent history.
Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting lava fountains up to 250 miles high. New NASA research suggests that tides flowing in a subsurface ocean of molten rock, or magma, could explain why Io’s volcanoes appear in the “wrong” place compared to models that predict how the moon’s interior is heated.