Pluto Moon Charon Has Colossal Planet-wide Canyon

Posted: Oct 2 2015, 12:40am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 2 2015, 12:42am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Pluto Moon Charon has Colossal Planet-wide Canyon
Charon in Enhanced Color NASA's New Horizons captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Charon just before closest approach on July 14, 2015. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

New images from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reveal giant canyon across the Pluto moon Charon.

It looks like a giant tried to cut Pluto moon Charon in half. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft delivered new images Charon revealing a planet-wide canyon.

Charon is not that small, having half the diameter of Pluto. This moon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. Scientists believed that Charon has a boring surface similar to Earth's moon. The contrary is the case. There is a diverse landscape with a colossal planet-wide canyon dominating the surface.

“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,” said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, “but I couldn't be more delighted with what we see."

High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator.

The Charon canyon system stretches more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the entire face of Charon and likely around onto Charon’s far side. This moon canyon is four times as long as Earth's Grand Canyon. It is also twice as deep in some places.

NASA has released a fly through video that takes space fans into the Canyon on Charon.

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

Other interesting areas of Charon include the so called Vulcan Planum. It has fewer large craters than the regions to the north, indicating that they are noticeably younger. One possibility for the smooth surface is a kind of cold volcanic activity, called cryovolcanism. “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.

Via the NASA New Horizons page.

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