New NASA images + video sweep over the surface of Pluto's moon, Charon

While Pluto has been hogging the main spotlight in most of New Horizons' recent load of downlinked photos, it's time for its spectacular lunar sister, Charon, to step into the center ring.

NASA just released these flabbergasting images of the barren, reddish-topped moon, the highest-resolution photos yet, revealing a stark landscape battered and bruised over time by the brutal forces of the universe. This first image blends blue, red and infrared images captured by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC), with colors processed to better highlight the interesting variation of surface features across the gorgeous globe of Charon.

“We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low,” said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team. 'But I couldn't be more delighted with what we see."

The next detail images were taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), shortly before the probe's closest approach on July 14th, overlaid with enhanced color from the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Charon’s heavily cratered uplands on top are separated by a series of canyons and rough ridges, and transitioning on the bottom to the low rolling plains of the Vulcan Planum.

“It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open,” added John Spencer, deputy lead for GGI at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “With respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars.”

Finally, check out this remarkable flyover video of Charon, starting with the darker Mordor region near Charon’s red-tinted north pole, then moving south to a vast chasm, descending from 1,100 miles to just 40 miles above the surface to zip through the canyon system.  Next it’s a twist to the south to view the flat plains and "moat mountain" named Kubrick Mons, a towering peak surrounded by a topographic depression.

What do you think of these latest images delivered from the depth of our solar system, and is Charon your new favorite?

(Via NASA/New Horizons)

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