Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, has had “a surprisingly complex and violent history” according to new high-resolution color images sent back by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.
A rusty-colored spot dots one of Charon’s poles, and mountains, canyons, craters, and landslides cover the moon.
“I couldn’t be more delighted with what we see,” said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center.
“We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low.”
Flying over Pluto\'s moon, CharonVideo by NASA and JHAPL
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A canyon four times longer and in places twice as deep as the Grand Canyon belts the Pluto-facing side of Charon, and scientists expect it likely wraps around to the far side of the moon.
“It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open,” said John Spencer, deputy lead for GGI at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. These features, NASA said, show that Charon experienced a massive geological upheaval.
That crack may have come from an ancient, frozen ocean.
“The team is discussing the possibility that an internal water ocean could have frozen long ago, and the resulting volume change could have led to Charon cracking open, allowing water-based lavas to reach the surface at that time,” said Paul Schenk, a New Horizons team member from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
New Horizons took the photos of Pluto’s moon in July and they made it back to Earth in late September. More images are expected to be transmitted from the NASA craft.
“I predict Charon’s story will become even more amazing!” said mission Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, on the impact new images could have.