A set of new images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, offers humans an appreciation of a day in the life of the dwarf planet. One day in Pluto is equal to 6.4 days on Earth.
Ten of the best shots of Pluto and Charon were combined in two composite images taken by NASA’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera prior to the New Horizons' Pluto flyby.
“The images were taken … as the distance between New Horizons and Pluto decreased from 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) on July 7 to 400,000 miles (about 645,000 kilometers) on July 13,” explained NASA.
The more distant images provide a glimpse of the 3 o’clock position showing Tombaugh Regio, the frozen heart of Pluto. At the 6 o’clock position, New Horizons was able to capture in most detail the so-called “encounter hemisphere,” which also exhibited differences with the “far side” hemisphere viewed at lower resolution.
Like its host planet, Charon rotates once every 6.4 Earth days. Its images, taken at the same time the camera captured Pluto’s details, include a number of the moon’s signature features such as canyons, uplands and rolling plains of the Vulcan Planum.
The image at the 12 o’clock position afforded the most detail, as it was taken during the spacecraft’s closest approach to the moon last July 14.
Apart from Charon, Pluto has four other bodies orbiting it, namely Kerberos, Nix, Hydra and Styx. These are tiny and odd-shaped bodies appearing to tumble in their paths around the popular dwarf planet – Hydra and Nix, for instance, seem to “tumble about like footballs” during their orbit because the interacting gravity of Pluto and Charon is throws them out of balance.
While the new set of images illustrates how they turn over the course of a day, Pluto and Charon are not shown in their entirety. The spacecraft closed in on the celestial body north of its equator, meaning a fair share of the southern hemisphere was missed.
More images, however, are poised to be sent back to Earth in the coming year.