Pixelated Moon: Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Gets First View of Charon


image:NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute


NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, now en route to Pluto, got its first glimpse of the dwarf planet’s largest moon, Charon, in this image released July 10.

Pluto is the bright spot in the center of the image. Charon is the faint smudge up and to the left. New Horizons snapped the picture at about 900 million kilometers from Pluto—six times the distance between Earth and the sun. At that distance, the light from Charon and Pluto takes about 48 minutes to reach New Horizons’s cameras. Charon is roughly the size of Texas, but to the approaching craft it appears no wider than a U.S. quarter seen from 17 kilometers away

Until 2005 Charon was Pluto’s only known moon. Since then astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered four more: Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. Kerberos and Styx are the smallest, each only about a dozen kilometers across; they received their official names just last week.

via Pixelated Moon: Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Gets First View of Charon: Scientific American Gallery.