Space scientists and enthusiasts alike have welcomed NASA’s photos of Pluto’s moon Charon captured in stunning detail, courtesy of the New Horizons craft. The first image below is a high resolution enhanced color view of Charon just before the spacecraft’s closest approach on 14 July 2015. It combines blue, red and infrared pictures clicked by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard the vehicle.
According to NASA, the visuals betray the moon’s complex and violent history. Scientists have been expecting to see the surface of Charon covered with craters. But this heavenly body has canyons, mountains, landslides and surface-color variations among other interesting features. Apparently, the whole crust seems to be split open by a belt of fractures and canyons north of its equator.
The massive tear on Charon’s face is four times longer than the Grand Canyon here on Earth, and goes on for more than 1600 kilometers. South of the area, plains referred to as the Vulcan Planum appear to be younger than the regions to the north as they have comparatively fewer large craters. Scientists are guessing that a cold volcanic activity known as cryovolcanism is behind this.
The theory is that an internal water ocean could have frozen below the surface, causing the cracks in Charon and pushing water-based lava to the top. NASA is anticipated to release better images and composition data over the next few months as New Horizons beams additional information to Earth. The spacecraft under the US agency’s New Frontiers Program, is overseen by the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Charon is actually part of a binary system along with Pluto. It is classified as one of the dwarf planet’s moons which also include Kerberos, Styx, Nix and Hydra.