Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best colour and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, which show a surprisingly complex and violent history.
The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colours are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon.
Charon’s colour palette is not as diverse as Pluto’s; most striking is the reddish north polar region, informally named Mordor Macula, Nasa said.
Charon is 1,214 kilometres across. The image resolves details as small as 2.9 kilometers.
At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system.
Charon’s cratered uplands at the top are broken by series of canyons, and replaced on the bottom by the rolling plains of the informally named Vulcan Planum.
The scene covers Charon’s width of 1,214 kilometres and resolves details as small as 0.8 kilometres.
Another image shows the details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator.
This great canyon system stretches more than 1,600 kilometres across the entire face of Charon and likely around onto Charon’s far side.