There's a Dark "Anti-Polar Cap" on Pluto's Moon Charon

Illustration for article titled Theres a Dark Anti-Polar Cap on Plutos Moon Charon

The latest batch of pics from the New Horizons spacecraft has revealed a previously unseen surface feature on Charon, a prominent dark splotch located at one of its poles.

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The new image of Charon was captured on June 18 at a distance of 31,500,000 miles (50,700,000 km). It shows significant surface details, including the mysterious dark spot.

Illustration for article titled Theres a Dark Anti-Polar Cap on Plutos Moon Charon
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The image on the left is the original image taken by New Horizons’ LORRI camera. The image on the right was sharpened by a process called deconvolution. NASA says this process can introduce visual artifacts, or “false” details, so the spot will have to be confirmed in future once higher resolution images come in.

Pluto’s surface details are also increasingly coming into focus.

Illustration for article titled Theres a Dark Anti-Polar Cap on Plutos Moon Charon

“This system is just amazing,” noted New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern in a statement. “The science team is just ecstatic with what we see on Pluto’s close approach hemisphere: Every terrain type we see on the planet—including both the brightest and darkest surface areas—are represented there, it’s a wonderland!”

“And about Charon—wow—I don’t think anyone expected Charon to reveal a mystery like dark terrains at its pole,” he continued. “Who ordered that?”

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New Horizons will make its historic flyby of the Pluto-Charon system on July 14, 2015.

[NASA]

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

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DISCUSSION

So, I know that New Horizons is going way too fast to stop and orbit Pluto or the Pluto-Charon system, but I’m curious: if today we were to launch a probe or some craft with the intent to orbit Pluto, how much slower than New Horizons would it have to go to be able to slip into an orbital pattern with an appropriate delta-v maneuver? Basically, if we launched today, how long would it take to get a craft into orbit around Pluto?