Pluto’s Largest Moon Gets Its Features Named

Pluto is no longer considered a planet, but that doesn’t stop it from looking like one, and hosting natural satellites just like other planets from the solar system. Scientists discovered Pluto’s largest moon Charon back in 1978. However, they didn’t have a clear view of the satellite until the New Horizons spacecraft reached it in 2015. The New Horizons team that explored the dwarf planet also suggested names for features on Charon.

When New Horizons first reached Pluto back in 2015, it raised a lot of hype. But also, it allowed people to see what this celestial body which is so far away, actually looks like up close. Photos captured by the spacecraft provided scientists with every crater, mountain and other features on Pluto’s largest moon.

Pluto's Largest Moon
versal1992 / Pixabay

With that info, the International Astronomical Union could approve names for Charon’s distinctive features on its surface. On their site it is noted that the IAU has given the names for Charon’s features based on the Our Pluto online naming campaign from 2015. People all over the world who were amazed with the pictures and discoveries suggested their own ideas and names for its features. Also considered were the names suggested by the New Horizons team.

The names chosen for the features, according to the IAU, are associated with the literature and mythology of exploration. The names for the features focus on honoring human exploration, giving credit to travelers, explorers, scientists, pioneering journeys and many mysterious destinations in space.

There were some more interesting names suggested on the list. The list of 12 features includes Kubrick Mons, Dorothy Crater, Nasreddin Crater and Caleuche Chasma. The first is named after film director Stanley Kubrick with IAU’s site referencing his seminal movie 2001, A Space Odyssey, while Dorothy Crater comes from the protagonist from L. Frank Baum’s book, The Magical World of Oz.

Charon got the attention of researchers as it was one of the most distant objects that the space probe came close to. Additionally, it’s one of the largest satellites in relation to the size of the planet it orbits, as it’s almost half the size of Pluto at about 754 miles. Pluto’s largest moon exceeded the expectations of scientists because they expected a world covered in craters. Instead, they discovered that Charon has mountains, canyons and a surface with multiple colors. Originally, the images were first captured on July 14, 2015 and came back to Earth on Sept. 21, 2015.

Scientists also added that the plains on the southern part of the canyon found on Charon could have larger craters compared to the northern regions, which means they were younger. One theory suggests that the satellite has cryovolcanoes. Cryovolcanoes belong to the type of volcanoes that can erupt with other substances instead of lava, including water, ammonia or methane.

According to Paul Schenk, who works with the New Horizons team, Charon could have had an internal water ocean that was frozen long ago, which could have resulted in water-based lavas that changed the landscape when it erupted.