Pluto’s Moon Charon is Battered, Bruised and Beautiful

posted: 10/02/15
by: Ian O'Neill for Discovery News
Charon from New Horizons

Move over Pluto, it's time for Charon to step into the limelight.

In new high-resolution observations to be transmitted to Earth from NASA's New Horizons mission, it's Pluto's largest moon, not the famous dwarf planet, that is getting all the attention. In the stunning imagery is never-before seen detail in the moon's landscape, including a huge valley that zigzags across Charon's face, testament a savagely violent history.

Charon is around half the diameter of Pluto, making it the largest moon relative to the world it is orbiting in the solar system. In fact, their orbital dance is so extreme that as Charon orbits, it causes Pluto to wobble wildly. Like a hammer thrower spinning on the spot, the center of the system's gravity is located above Pluto's surface, promptic calls to classify Pluto and Charon a "binary planet" -- the largest example of its kind in the solar system (there are also several asteroids that are binaries).

But planetary classifications to one side, this new view of Charon shows a fascinating world in its own right, complete with stunning craters, interesting geological features and a dramatically cracked crust that has surprised New Horizons scientists.

"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, Colo. "With respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars."

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