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New Video of Pluto and Charon ~ The Wobbly Dance

New Video of Pluto and Charon ~ The Wobbly Dance
Editors

A short time-lapse “movie” was shot of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. The images were taken by Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is closer to Pluto than any spacecraft has ever been.


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The movie was made over about a week, from Jan. 25-31, 2015. It was taken as part of the mission’s second optical navigation (“OpNav”) campaign to better refine the locations of Pluto and Charon in preparation for the spacecraft’s close encounter with the small planet and its five moons on July 14, 2015.



Pluto and Charon both rotate once every 6.4 Earth days. The two objects also complete one orbit around their common center of mass, or barycenter, in the same amount of time. (Pluto and Charon are tidally locked to each other, with one body always showing the other the same face.)

“These images allow the New Horizons navigators to refine the positions of Pluto and Charon, and they have the additional benefit of allowing the mission scientists to study the variations in brightness of Pluto and Charon as they rotate, providing a preview of what to expect during the close encounter in July,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.

Charon is about half Pluto’s width and somewhere around one-eighth to one-tenth its mass, and with a center-to-center orbit of roughly 20,000 km, the center of mass for this system is actually above Pluto’s surface.

If the icy surface of Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a 2012 NASA-funded study. Pluto, which was once considered a planet — resides in the Kuiper Belt (a vast collection of frozen objects that orbit our Sun about 30 to 50 astronomical units (AUs) away).

Pluto is an extremely distant world, orbiting the sun more than 29 times farther than Earth. With a surface temperature estimated to be about 380 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (around minus 229 degrees Celsius), the environment at Pluto is far too cold to allow liquid water on its surface. Pluto’s moons are in the same frigid environment.

Although temperatures on Pluto’s surface hover around -230 °C, but researchers have long wondered whether the dwarf planet might boast enough internal heat to sustain a liquid ocean under its icy exterior.

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