The first global maps of Pluto and its moon Charon are now available and put a bookend on the NASA mission New Horizons.
"From a do-gooder's point of view, these are all good data that we have put together into a coherent, complete mosaic," says planetary scientist Ross Beyer of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
Charts focus on Pluto's 42 percent and Charon's 45 percent, where New Horizons took pictures from at least two angles during its flyby in 2015, measuring the height and depth of the landscapes (SN: 6/27/15, p. 16).
These measurements add topographic details to already known functions. For example, the smooth plains of Pluto's distinctive, heart-shaped ice sheet called Sputnik Planitia are two to three kilometers below the edge of the region.
The biggest surprise on Pluto is a 3,200-kilometer system of ridges and valleys that draws a single long line over the dwarf planet. This wave could spread around the globe, report Beyer and colleagues on June 11 in Berlin Icarus, This function is only visible with all data, says Beyer. The team still has no good explanation for its formation.
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Charon's map confirmed that the moon is made up of two large zones: smooth plains in the southern hemisphere and broken blocks and ravines in the north, Beyer and colleagues report in another newspaper in Washington on July 3 Icarus (SN: 4/2/16, p. 20). At first the scientists thought that both terrains were at the same height, but the new map shows that the plains are one or two kilometers lower than the northern terrain.
"We do not know exactly why that is, but it's certainly interesting," says Beyer.
Other planetary scientists will use these maps to continue to uncover the secrets of Pluto and Charon. "These maps are really the basis, the cartographic basis for everything that another scientist will do," says Beyer.