NASA releases images displaying a day in the life of Pluto and Charon
NASA has released two images showcasing a full rotation of the dwarf planet Pluto and its unusually large moon Charon. The observations combined to create the mosaics were captured as the spacecraft made its high velocity pass of the dwarf planet using the probe's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera.
A day on Pluto lasts for roughly 6.4 Earth-days, which is roughly the same amount of time that it takes Charon to orbit its parent planet. Since her encounter with Pluto, New Horizons has succeeded in characterizing the enigmatic dwarf planet in stunning detail, revealing a surprisingly complex and diverse atmospheric and surface environment.
The images of Pluto vary noticeably in definition, with the most detailed image featuring at the 6 o'clock position, and the blurriest at the 3 o'clock mark. The disparity in image quality results from New Horizons' rapid approach to Pluto between July 7 - 13, during which time the probe closed on the dwarf planet by roughly 5 million miles.
Note also that the distinctive dimples that mark the lower region of the dwarf planet in the images are not true geographical features, but rather artifacts that occur as a by product of stitching together multiple images to create a global mosaic.
The images that comprise the portrait of Charon's day cycle, were captured at the same time as observations of Pluto, and so are affected by the same distance-based resolution issues. The most detailed image is presented at the 12 o'clock position, whilst the most distant shots comprised the 9 o'clock image.
The two portraits display a marked difference in geology between the dwarf planet and her moon. Whilst Pluto exhibits significant disparity in surface features between the "encounter hemisphere" and its "far side," the surface of Charon is remarkably uniform, displaying predominantly the same surface features on a global scale.
Further data will be transmitted by New Horizons over the coming months that will shed further light on the fascinating geological features of Pluto and her Moons, as the probe races towards its next potential scientific target – a planetoid known as 2014 MU69.