NASA’s New Horizons Unveils First Global Map Of Pluto And Its Moon Charon

Posted: Jul 13 2018, 11:46pm CDT | by , Updated: Jul 13 2018, 11:50pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

NASA’s New Horizons Unveils First Global Map of Pluto and Charon
Mountain ridges and volcanic plains on Pluto's moon, Charon. Credit: USRA

New detailed, high-quality maps are available for use by the public

In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made a historic close flyby of Pluto and its moons and transformed our understanding of these mysterious worlds. Now, by using actual close-images from New Horizons, researchers have created the first official global map and topographical maps of Pluto and its largest moon Charon and these detailed, high-quality maps are now available to the public as well.

New maps reveal many prominent features on both bodies and point to a surprisingly complex and violent past. The most intriguing feature on Pluto is Tenzing Montes range, which formed along the frozen nitrogen ice sheet of Sputnik Planitia and contains the highest known mountains on the planet. Pluto mountains are believed to have formed by stiff water ice in order to maintain their heights. Around the western edge of Sputnik Planitia, lies a global-scale deeply eroded ridge. It stretches 3000 kilometers long, making it the longest known feature on Pluto.

Pluto’s moon Charon also has a rich landscape. At half the size of Pluto, Charon is the largest moon relative to its planet in the solar system. Before New Horizons’ flight through the Pluto system, Charon was expected to be a monotonous, crater-battered world. Its topographic map shows that the surface of the moon is covered with giant mountains, vast canyons and landslides instead.

“These and other features make Charon the most rugged mid-sized icy satellites other than Saturn's high-contrast moon Iapetus.” Ross Beyer, Research Scientist at the SETI Institute in California said.

New Horizons team created the global mosaic map by combining all the images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) systems together. For topographic maps, researchers used digital analysis of stereo images obtained by both cameras. It took researchers more than two years to complete the project and the accuracy of maps continued to improve with each new set of data returned to Earth from the New Horizons spacecraft.

"This was one of the most complex yet most exciting planetary mapping projects I've had the pleasure to be involved with. Every time new images came down, something new would be revealed,” said project leader Paul Schenk from Universities Space Research Association (USRA). "The first thing we had to do was understand the behavior of two different imaging systems in order to derive reliable topographic maps.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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