First Global Maps of Pluto and Charon Revealed

Credit: NASA

(From ScienceNews)

The first global maps of Pluto and its moon Charon are now available, putting a bookend on NASA’s New Horizons mission.

“From a completionist’s point of view, they are all the good data we have, stitched together into a coherent, complete mosaic,” says planetary scientist Ross Beyer of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

The charts focus on the 42 percent of Pluto and 45 percent of Charon where New Horizons snapped images from at least two angles during its 2015 flyby, revealing the landscapes’ height and depth (SN: 6/27/15, p. 16).

These measurements add topographic detail to already familiar features. For instance, the smooth plains of Pluto’s distinctive, heart-shaped ice sheet, known as Sputnik Planitia, lie two to three kilometers below the region’s rim.

The biggest surprise on Pluto is a 3,200-kilometer-long system of ridges and troughs that traces a single, long line across the dwarf planet. That streak may stretch all the way around the globe, Beyer and colleagues report online June 11 in Icarus. This feature was only visible with all the data put together, Beyer says. The team doesn’t have a good explanation for its formation yet.

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