The latest New Horizons photos have arrived, and they revealed stunning facts about Pluto's small moon, Charon.
NASA’s New Horizon’s mission has revealed an unimaginable amount of new information about the dwarf planet Pluto, but that isn’t all it has taught astronomers. According to the Space Reporter, the NASA probe also snapped incredible shots of Pluto’s numerous moons, including a new mysterious photo of the dark side of one of the dwarf planet’s biggest moons, Charon.
The photo was snapped just three days after New Horizons was at is closest distance from Pluto. The night side of Charon has spurred wonder and amazement in New Horizons researchers, who may never again get such an up-close look at the strange moon.
Only 16 second-long exposures of Charon’s dark side were snapped as the space probe flew towards the Kuiper Belt. The photos were snapped by New Horizons’ Long range Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LORRI from more than 1.9 miles away. The photos were stitched together to reveal a glowing ridge around Charon.
While the photos certainly don’t reveal surface details like the ones scientists have been studying of Pluto, they still revealed a number of interesting features on the moon. “Charon’s nighttime landscapes are still faintly visible by light softly reflected off Pluto, just as ‘Earthshine’ lights up a new moon each month,” said a NASA statement.
Already, NASA researchers are undertaking the task of mapping out the regions of Charon that were not illuminated by the photo. Of particular interest is the moon’s south pole, which is actually situated at the top of the new image. The pole will not be illuminated by the sun again until 2017, and has been sitting in the dark since 1989.
Charon is a little over half of the diameter of Pluto, and dances with the dwarf planet around a central orbital point called a barycenter. Four other small moons, Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos orbit the tiny binary system, holding even more mysteries that New Horizons scientists hope to investigate in the coming years.
A NASA press release describing the details of the stunning new photo can be found here.