Spaceflight Insider

Young crater discovered on Charon; Pluto crescent image released

Charon’s Young Ammonia Crater.

Charon’s Young Ammonia Crater. The informally named Organa crater (shown in green) is rich in frozen ammonia and – so far – appears to be unique on Pluto’s largest moon. Credits: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI

A crater on the Pluto-facing side of the distant natural satellite Charon is profoundly different from other, older craters on the large moon’s surface – its ammonia-rich composition showing it to be unusually young.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back its highest infrared composition scans of Charon. While studying them, New Horizons mission scientists found that the crater, unofficially named Organa, and surrounding ejected material, known as ejecta, absorbs infrared at wavelengths of 2.2 microns, confirming a composition of frozen ammonia.

In contrast, a nearby crater unofficially named Skywalker is composed primarily of water ice, much like most of the craters on Charon’s surface. Both Organa and Skywalker are about three miles (five km) in diameter. The craters resemble one another in that both are surrounded by thin rays of ejecta, but their appearances are slightly different – Organa’s ejecta has a dark central region.

A map created from data taken by the Ralph/LEISA instrument shows ammonia-rich material extending beyond the crater’s central dark area.

“Why are these two similar-looking and similar-sized craters, so near to each other, so compositionally distinct?” questioned New Horizons Composition team lead Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the site where Pluto was first discovered in 1930.

“We have various ideas when it comes to the ammonia in Organa. The crater could be younger, or perhaps the impact that created it hit a pocket of ammonia-rich subsurface ice. Alternatively, maybe Organa’s impactor delivered its own ammonia,” Grundy speculated.

Bill McKinnon, deputy lead of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging (GGI) team, noted that ammonia, which acts as an anti-freeze, could indicate Charon’s surface has been formed by cryovolcanism.

If the ammonia is coming from Charon’s interior, it could be erupting onto the surface within cold, ammonia-water magmas, he explained.

A composite image of Charon showing both Organa and Skywalker was created from Ralph/LEISA data taken when New Horizons was within 50,000 miles (81,000 km) of the large moon on July 14.  The spatial resolution is three miles (five km) per pixel.

Location of Organa and Skywalker craters on Charon.

This composite image is based on observations from the New Horizons Ralph/LEISA instrument made at 10:25 UT (6:25 a.m. EDT) on July 14, 2015, when New Horizons was 50,000 miles (81,000 kilometers) from Charon. The spatial resolution is 3 miles (5 kilometers) per pixel. The LEISA data were downlinked Oct. 1-4, 2015, and processed into a map of Charon’s 2.2-micron ammonia-ice absorption band. Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) panchromatic images used as the background in this composite were taken about 8:33 UT (4:33 a.m. EDT) July 14 at a resolution of 0.6 miles (0.9 kilometers) per pixel and downlinked Oct. 5-6. The ammonia absorption map from LEISA is shown in green on the LORRI image. The region covered by the yellow box is 174 miles across (280 kilometers). (Click to enlarge.)  Image & Caption Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI

Panchromatic images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were used to create the background in the composite image. The ammonia-absorption area is highlighted in green while the region within the yellow box is 174 miles (280 km) across.

The New Horizons team also released a new image showing Pluto’s crescent taken 15 minutes after closest approach as the spacecraft looked back at Pluto in the direction of the Sun. Additional processing by the science team since the September release of the stunning Pluto backlit image enabled the team to create entire, detailed images of the small backlit planet.

Taken at a wide angle by New Horizons’ Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km), with a resolution of 0.4 miles (700 meters), the image shows more than a dozen layers of Pluto’s surrounding haze.

Pluto crescent as seen by New Horizons

This image was made just 15 minutes after New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, as the spacecraft looked back at Pluto toward the Sun. The horizontal streaks [seen in the enlarged image (click to view/zoom)] in the sky beyond Pluto are stars, smeared out by the motion of the camera as it tracked Pluto. Image & Caption Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI

Silhouettes of Pluto’s jagged terrain are visible on the night (left) side while the smooth Sputnik Planum can be seen on the sunlit (right) side, along with the 11,000-foot (3,500-meter) high water ice mountains to the plain’s left. The Hillary Montes range can be seen outlined against the sky while the Norgay Montes range is visible in the image’s foreground. Glaciers that break up more rugged terrain can be seen to the east of (below) Sputnik Planum. Along the top of Pluto’s disk, viewers can see the shadow cast by the planet on its atmospheric hazes. Horizontal streaks in the background beyond Pluto are actually stars smeared by the cameras as they focused on Pluto.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft successfully carried out its third maneuver toward its next target – Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 – on October 28. The primordial KBO is located one billion miles beyond Pluto. New Horizons will make its closest approach to the tiny object on January 1, 2019. The spacecraft’s third of four targeting maneuvers, conducted via its hydrazine-fueled thrusters, was the largest move it has ever undertaken, and lasted approximately 30 minutes.

Through NASA’s Deep Space Network, mission controllers received data eight hours after the 1:15 p.m. EDT maneuver confirming its success.

A final maneuver is scheduled for November 4 – though additional ones may be done in the future as more is learned about the orbit of 2014 MU69 and its location.

New Horizons’ science team, which plans to submit a formal proposal to NASA for an extended mission in 2016, hopes to fly even closer to this KBO than the 7,750-mile (12,500-km) closest approach to Pluto.

Traveling at more than 32,000 miles per hour, New Horizons is now 79 million miles (127 million km) past Pluto, 3.17 billion miles (5.1 billion km) from Earth, and 900 million miles (1.45 billion km) from 2014 MU69, with all its systems and instruments remaining healthy.



Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Reader Comments

This from my article in titled
To NASA: I Approached NEW HORIZON through Math …But They Adopted Intuition Instead, thus, Sunset the Facts

By: Researcher Adnan Alshawafi

……… Hence, I hope to bring light to NASA and the world: I refuted the conclusion assumed unduly by NEW HORIZON that there is nitrogen ice on Pluto because the flyby of the dwarf planet was closer to the perigee of its orbit around the sun. The temperature at this distance and low pressure will not allow the composition of nitrogen ice. The nitrogen would be in a gaseous state at this atmosphere. Note that the explanations that the dwarf planet’s atmosphere components including nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide were already monitored by the European Southern Observatory and published on in a 2009 article by Clara Moskowitz, entitled “Pluto’s Atmosphere Warmer Than Thought”.

The team of New Horizon interpreted the flow of water ice without logical proof to find a unique discovery for the reclassification of Pluto as a planet. They may change their interpretation. I think it is better for them to hold off saying there exists water, as a result of the interaction of thermal decomposition of oxidative methane component of carbon monoxide by volcanoes and natural factors on the surface of Pluto. This  gives the relative difference of intensity of icy clouds compared to the nitrogen in the state of gaseous at atmosphere (we said icy clouds because the ice on Pluto becomes as a fog like air at Earth because of the low pressure on the surface of Pluto). So the clouds appear in abutting with the malformations and cracks on the surface, which made them believe the ice is flowing, and more importantly, that icy clouds cover malformations and cracks on the surface, which still made them believe Pluto is completely spherical.

The limit of this dissertation is more than just explanations of the truth about Pluto and Charon. It is a presumption and proof that confirms the correct scientific approach and the strength of mathematics depended on to write my hypothesis “Compound balance balls,” article on National Yemen, where I managed to explain the cosmic phenomena logically and mathematically to find a way out of the two opposite conclusions. I had been studying the coordinates of Pluto and Charon and researched the regressive movement (vibratory movement) as indicated in my hypothesis and that the same movement which are described by New Horizon as a complex orbital dancing.

On the ground, and by following scientific criteria of the dimensions and the coordinates released by the photos about Pluto and Charon, they still assert the complex orbital dance. Earlier I grasped complex orbital dance, where I had described it as a regressive (vibratory) movement according to the hypothesis in my book published in 2013 . So I confirmed an orbital dance  after an analysis of the coordinates of Pluto and Charon in previous photos taken from faraway distances and labeled by New Horizon as obscure pictures, because I did not imitate their optical analysis to understand those photos. The scientific explanation of orbital dance is a regressive movement, or a “vibratory movement” (disorder of the distance between Pluto and Charon back and forth and never moves in a regular elliptical orbit – so there are aphelion and perigee more than once per one orbital rotation of Charon around Pluto).

So here is the reason of the disorder, in changing in distance, as a result of changing factors controlling the balance of the attraction force and the repulsion force between Pluto and Charon, according to my hypothesis that was published in my book in 2013 ” Hypothesis of compound balance factitious balls … an approach in astronomy”: ((An orb charged by the field of the gravity “magnetic attraction field” which is gained by the space due to the rotation around itself, and the magnetic field intensity is directly proportional with square root for the distance)) and: (( An orb which has a volume in space repulses against all similar other orbs which separate among the space, by the field of repulsion spread every direction and its effect according to the orbs surface area in all directions, it prorates reversely with square root for the distance)) – page 71 .

Where the hypothesis is based on eight laws and eight new mathematical equations you can realize a mathematical analysis of the vibratory movement of orbs (compound orbital dance for Pluto and Charon), which is a result of the change in opposite surfaces between Pluto and Charon.  That means the perspective of Pluto’s surface from Charon is constantly changing. Also the perspective of Charon’s surface from Pluto is constantly changing. Therefore, conclude that Pluto and Charon cannot have completely spherical shape for the both of them.

In other words, The constantly changing distance can also be attributed to the fact that the mass of Pluto or Charon is not concentrated in the body’s center. If we break it into halves, we will see that one half has larger mass than the other half by over 20% in proportion (5:4) , there is a presence of the deformation in the surface of Pluto or Charon. This explanation is developed following an in-depth study of the probabilities and on the applicable concepts.

I also concluded the distance between Pluto center and the common center of gravity keeps constantly changing. So, the spiral route of Pluto’s center in its orbit around the sun does not have constant radius of its spiral route. The motion of Pluto’s center in its orbit around the sun draws a circle up to a radius of 3000 – 4000 km, but according to what we know i.e. 2100 km. It seems to us that Pluto’s motion around the factitious thing in the middle of its orbital spiral route around the sun , as a result of the compound balance system (binary system) for Pluto and Charon with the sun, accords to the hypothesis of compound balance factitious balls.

The scientific efforts through individual or collective contributions establish humanitarian integration in the process of research, to understand the cosmic phenomena in a human activity based on sharing. Re-thinking Pluto as a full planet is a desperate attempt that may reflect itself on the reputation of NASA as an iconic global scientific institution. I think it’s time for NASA to reconsider the team of NEW HORIZON as being close to losing the historical feat of this mission because of individual partiality to re-classify Pluto as a full planet.

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