Prior to the New Horizons probe doing it's flyby of Pluto and Charon last year, there certainly was not a whole lot to look at as far as Charon goes
except as a hand full of pixels on a screen for most.
Discovered in 1978 by James Christy at the United States Naval Observatory, interestingly it was not because of blink movement, or seeing the body
actually move around Pluto, but rather because Pluto kept getting a bump. As in a lump on it's side. In reality it was Charon peeking out.
With the New Horizons flyby, proves quite nicely that having a spacecraft with a high resolution camera and telescope on board gives us some of the
most spectacular images that people can pour over:
Charon (officially pronounced with a hard "K" sound, but is more commonly pronounced with the "Sh" sound even by many astronomers and NASA), is a
small body that is bigger than the dwarf planet Ceres. However it's half the size of it's parent body Pluto. Normally that would make it the biggest
moon in relation to it's parent body, but due to the fact that Pluto was downgraded from full planet status to dwarf planet, that means our own Moon
and Earth has that distinction. Neither our Moon or Charon hold the distinction of being the biggest moon in our solar system. That award goes to
Jupiter's moon Ganymede, which is actually bigger than the planet Mercury!
Because Charon is so big as compared to Pluto, both it and Pluto share a special type of orbital movement. Instead of Charon orbiting about Pluto as
the Moon orbits about our planet, both Pluto and Charon orbit about a point in space, always keeping the same face to each other:
Charon's surface appears to have a surface of mostly water ice with patches of ammonia hydrates on it. Those patches suggest that, at least in it's
past, Charon has cryrovolcanos or cryrogysers on it. In the following image, who's color has been enhanced to show the different make ups of the
surface (and which I love to look at), we can see darker areas like the north polar region. The darker norther region, called Mordor by the New
Horizons team (at -258 deg C, I bet even Sauron would be cold) has the darker hues due to chemical reactions from sun light with nitrogen, carbon
monoxide, and methane in their solid form. Yes...solid form. It's that cold there!
Looking over the above image is always fascinating to me. Comparing Charon with our Moon, especially the far side of the Moon, our Moon looks like
someone really had a beef with it, and shot it so many times with meteor impacts, that you can't find too many places that do not have craters!
Charon has so little in the way of craters.
However, that does not detract from the fact that to me, Charon looks like someone beat the snot out of it. It appears dented, cracked and basically
broken in many ways. This gives it many different features that I find amazing:
The Lonely Mountain:
Looks like one heck of a crack to me:
And now for some pop culture trivia about Charon!
Charon is featured in two video games, Descent which is a 3D first person shooter game that was released back in 1995 for PlayStation, where the final
level has you on what is suppose to be Charon, and the Mass Effect game series, where Charon was suppose to be an icy body that inside contained a
Mass Relay that allowed humanity to make FTL jumps from our solar system to other parts of the galaxy. In Mass Effect, when humanity started using the
Mass Relay in orbit around Pluto, it caused Pluto's orbit to become more circular.
From the video game "Descent":
A mass relay from the game series Mass Effect:
Jonathan Coulton's song "I'm Your Moon" is suppose to be a love song, sung by Charon to Pluto:
And if you're wondering why his name sounds familiar...or the musical style does, it may be because he wrote both the ending credit songs for the
games Portal and Portal 2:
Nice thread Erik.. Thanks for that thread, good presentation.
Always excited when one of these missions flys out to distant planets and moons.. And although this is an amazing achievement and we'll worth every
dollar spent.. I'm always a little disappointed when I see the images and it's just another barren rock floating in space..
With the New Horizons flyby, proves quite nicely that having a spacecraft with a high resolution camera and telescope on board gives us some of
the most spectacular images that people can pour over:
Getting better all the time as they download and image the data.Thanks for the look at Charon.
You're right, it looks hammered to me, too.
Like dropping a hard boiled egg on the floor... maybe whatever hit it that hard is reflected in a massive crater on the opposite side? Or does the
tidally locked orbit with Pluto exert such force on one side Charon is being 'pulled' slowly apart?
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