The high resolution photos taken by New Horizons spacecraft during its historic flyby show the dwarf planet’s largest moon Charon in unprecedented detail. NASA scientists enhanced the moon’s colors to have a clear view of the strange little world’s landscape.
What struck scientists first was the red blob at the moon’s north pole, which was dubbed Mordor Macula. Pluto has also red spots on its surface, which scientists believe that are carbon-based particles formed when UV light divided particles that later created more complex structures.
But because it is unusual for Charon to have a red spot on its surface, scientists believe that Mordor region was created via transfer of material from Pluto’s atmosphere to its moon. Since the craters in the region are bright, scientists believe that the layer of reddish material is thin enough that small collisions remove it and unveils the highly reflective material underneath such as ice.
The moon has also a 1,600-km-long canyon which is way deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon. Charon’s canyon is just as long as Valles Marineris, a canyon on planet Mars’ surface.
Charon’s two hemispheres are incredibly contrasting. While the southern hemisphere is smoother and dotted with volcanoes (this is why researchers called it Vulcan Planum), the northern hemisphere has a rugged appearance. Scientists believe that the southern half was once home to active ice volcanoes or cryovolcanism which flooded the northern half with ice.
Unfortunately, New Horizons was able to capture just a side of the moon because the flyby happened extremely fast. NASA recently released a batch of high-resolution photos of Chraon.
In those photos, we can clearly see a crater chain. These types of chains usually emerge when debris from a major collision is ejected and falls back. But the crater chain on Charon is special. Nearly all craters in the chain are in a very tight formation; some of them seem to even overlap. And there isn’t a bigger crater that could point the exact spot of the collision.
Scientists speculate that the weird chain may have formed when a large object broke up before it impacted Charon’s surface, creating a series of small craters in the process. A similar thing happened on Jupiter in 1994, when the planet’s huge gravitational pull ripped a comet into pieces. Nevertheless, this may not be the case for Charon and Pluto since they don’t have the gravity of a gas giant such as Jupiter.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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