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Pluto's Largest Moon, Charon's Night Side Captured With New Horizon

First Posted: Jan 22, 2016 11:19 AM EST

NASA's New Horizon spacecraft captured a haunting, but gorgeous image of the night side of Pluto's largest moon, Charon, during a close flyby on July 17, 2015 from a distance of 1.9 million miles (3.1 million kilometers).

The image was taken from a distant side of Pluto, which entails a bright, a silver layer on Charon's lower left that is illuminated by the sun. The rest of the image is covered in darkness, as night has covered the remaining portion of Charon.

Even though there is a lack of sunlight on most of Charon's surface, its nighttime landscapes are slightly visible with a soft light that is reflected off of Pluto, similar to the "Earthshine" that brightens a new moon every month.

Charon is approximately 750 miles (1,214 kilometers) in diameter and its width is about the size of Texas. Researchers from the New Horizons mission are using this image along with similar ones to map areas of Charon, which were not visible during the flyby, according to a news release. Charon's South Pole was one of these areas, which went into the polar night in 1989 and will not be exposed to sunlight until 2017. During the polar winter, Charon's temperature is about zero degrees. 

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