Washington | Pluto’s largest moon Charon is home to an unusual canyon system that is far longer and deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon, according to a new image beamed back by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.
The image captured by New Horizons several hours before its closest approach in July last year shows a portion of the eastern limb in the global view of Charon. It shows a deep canyon informally named Argo Chasma grazing the limb.
The section of it seen in the image measures about 300 kilometres long. Argo’s total length is about 700 kilometres long for comparison, Arizona’s Grand Canyon is 450 kilometres long, scientists said.
They estimate Argo Chasma to be as deep as nine kilometres, which is more than five times the depth of the Grand Canyon. There appear to be locations along the canyon’s length where sheer cliffs reaching several miles high occur, and which could potentially rival Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda, which is at least five kilometres high, for the title of tallest known cliff face in the solar system.
The image was obtained by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at a resolution of about 2.33 kilometres per pixel. It was taken at a range of about 466,000 kilometres from Charon, 9 hours and 22 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Charon.