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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Charon in 3D

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

13-10-2015 18:40 CDT

Topics: trans-neptunian objects, New Horizons, pretty pictures, Pluto, Charon, dwarf planets beyond Neptune, 3D, Pluto's small moons

Last week, the pile of New Horizons LORRI camera raw image releases included nine frames from a high-resolution mosaic on Charon. You can put those together, if you like, to make a nice black-and-white global view, but it isn't dramatically different from the glorious color image of Charon taken by Ralph MVIC that they released last week. However, it is a little bit different. The LORRI view was taken a couple of hours before the MVIC one, and during those two hours, New Horizons' perspective on Charon changed. The perspective shift makes for a pretty dramatic 3D view of this moon's often surprising topography.

Charon in 3D

NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Alex Parker / Daniel Macháček

Charon in 3D
The right-eye image is a mosaic of LORRI photos; the left-eye image is from Ralph MVIC.

Crossed-eye stereo

Parallel-eye stereo

Flicker gif

Pretty cool! Here's a quick look at all the close-approach Charon imagery now available on the raw image website.

Catalog of New Horizons' close-approach images of Charon as of October 13, 2015

NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Emily Lakdawalla

Catalog of New Horizons' close-approach images of Charon as of October 13, 2015
New Horizons will take a year to return all its science data to Earth. This image compiles the data released for Charon from the period of 48 hours around closest approach to date. Text at the right side gives an idea of what kinds of data are missing in between the images already returned to Earth. Images are taken as part of specific science observations. If any data from an observation has reached Earth, the text for that observation is blue. The numbers for time, range, and resolution represent the actual metadata for the first image taken in any observation. Gray italic text represents observations that were commanded, but for which data have not yet appeared on the raw images website. This text comes from a table of planned observations given to Emily Lakdawalla by Leslie Young in July 2014. Times, ranges, and resolutions in that document are not precisely correct; they may be off by the actual values by up to ten minutes, thousands of kilometers, and tens of meters, respectively. There is no public information regarding how many images are supposed to be in all of these observations. Observations for which data are on this compilation may include more images not yet returned from the spacecraft. New Horizons LORRI images can be found here.

Other recent New Horizons image releases include this lovely color view of Pluto's entire backlit globe, which shows you that Pluto's sunrises and sunsets are tinted blue:

Pluto's blue skies


Pluto's blue skies
Pluto’s haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn’s moon Titan. The source of both hazes likely involves sunlight-initiated chemical reactions of nitrogen and methane, leading to relatively small, soot-like particles (called tholins) that grow as they settle toward the surface. This image was generated by software that combines information from blue, red and near-infrared images to replicate the color a human eye would perceive as closely as possible.

And they finally downlinked a photo of Styx, which is surprisingly small. Pause for a moment and think about how surprising it is that astronomers were able to discover this tiny world, picking out the light of a moon only 5 kilometers in diameter orbiting so close to Pluto. Hubble is an amazing piece of engineering.

Styx from New Horizons


Styx from New Horizons
Styx is Pluto's innermost small moon, and one of the last discovered (along with Kerberos). New Horizons took this photo from a distance of 631,000 kilometers, 12.5 hours out from Pluto closest approach. The image does not reveal any details but shows that Styx is very small indeed: in this image it appears about 5 by 7 kilometers in size.
See other posts from October 2015


Read more blog entries about: trans-neptunian objects, New Horizons, pretty pictures, Pluto, Charon, dwarf planets beyond Neptune, 3D, Pluto's small moons


bergh60 aka Holger: 10/13/2015 11:51 CDT

Hello Emily ! Thank you very much for keeping us up to date. Stunning pictures of the Pluto System every week. regards Holger

Mewo: 10/14/2015 03:00 CDT

So... I guess this means there's no chance of New Horizons having spotted additional moons or a ring system. Sad face :(

Chris: 10/14/2015 11:17 CDT

I just bought some 3D glasses so I'm new to viewing these images. Some 3D images are easy for my eyes to "grasp" and some aren't. This one was medium hard to resolve but when my eyes finally figured out what to do it was worth it. To me the 3D effect on the sphere was very pronounced to the point of stretching the receding terrain into more of an elongated gourd look. I couldn't resolve the fully magnified image at all, only the small one. I would imagine each viewer's experience varies quite a bit as the variables are many. What are a few of the major parameters you consider when creating a 3D image?

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