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The New Horizons science team today released a new image showing both Pluto and Charon, and not unexpectedly, they are very different from each other.
A high-contrast array of bright and dark features covers Pluto’s surface, while on Charon, only a dark polar region interrupts a generally more uniform light gray terrain. The reddish materials that color Pluto are absent on Charon. Pluto has a significant atmosphere; Charon does not. On Pluto, exotic ices like frozen nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide have been found, while Charon’s surface is made of frozen water and ammonia compounds. The interior of Pluto is mostly rock, while Charon contains equal measures of rock and water ice. “These two objects have been together for billions of years, in the same orbit, but they are totally different,” said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.
For a half century, since the first probes left Earth to visit other worlds, the one consistent axiom we have learned from every mission is that no two objects are going to be alike, and that every object out there is going to be incredibly unique. Pluto and Charon, in finishing the human race’s first inventory of the solar system, prove this axiom once again.