New Horizons: NASA Shares Photo of Pluto Moon Charon's Dark SideBy Russell Westerholm
For being so far away, Pluto's moon Charon looks awfully familiar in a new image NASA released.
According to Space.com, New Horizons took the photo three days after its flyby of Pluto, capturing Charon's dark side. The photo is reminiscent of Earth's moon, appearing half cloaked in shadow and showing a bright crescent on its edge.
"Only an imager on the far side of Pluto could catch such a view, with a bright, thin sliver of Charon near the lower left illuminated by the sun," NASA said in a statement. "Night has fallen over the rest of this side of Charon, yet despite the lack of sunlight over most of the surface, Charon's nighttime landscapes are still faintly visible by light softly reflected off Pluto, just as 'Earthshine' lights up a new moon each month. Charon is 750 miles (1,214 kilometers) in diameter, approximately as wide as Texas.
"Scientists on the New Horizons team are using this and similar images to map portions of Charon otherwise not visible during the flyby. This includes Charon's south pole - toward the top of this image - which entered polar night in 1989 and will not see sunlight again until 2107. Charon's polar temperatures drop to near absolute zero during this long winter."
Pluto's largest moon, Charon's diameter is about half that of the distant dwarf planet, but it is still relatively small at 753 miles across. Since New Horizons could not slow itself down enough to enter an orbit of Pluto or its moons, the spacecraft had to take as pictures as it could while it flew on by.
While New Horizons snapped many stunning photos of Pluto, most of Charon, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx's portraits were more pixelated.
The spacecraft is now on its way to rendezvouses with 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt Object that orbits the sun about a billion miles farther than Pluto does. The target is pending approval, but is considered a strong candidate.