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Scientists on Earth are still receiving data that the New Horizons spacecraft has collected during its Pluto flyby. Not only are they finding out surprising new things about the retrograded planet but also about its moons.
Processing the data and the photos revealed that one of Pluto’s natural satellites, Charon, may feature what researchers call a “Super Grand Canyon” – a bigger and larger canyon system than the one we have on Earth.
New Horizons researchers also believe the formation on Charon could be much deeper than the Grand Canyon we have in Arizona, U.S. Among other features, a humongous ridge can be visible in the high-quality picture the spacecraft took of the moon’s surface.
The impressive size of the ridge etched on Charon’s surface is responsible for the nickname Super Grand Canyon, referencing to a similar relief structure to the one on Earth, but significantly longer and vastly deeper.
NASA also revealed the more official name of the ridge – the Argo Chasma – which is still fairly informal. As the data captured by New Horizons is processed, scientists hope to catch another glimpse of Charon’s fascinating feature.
Visible in the picture above, the ridge is seemingly dropping on the edge of the moon, located in the eastern region of Pluto’s natural satellite. The image of the Super Grand Canyon was captured on July 14, 2015, several hours before New Horizons’ closest flyby near Charon.
Based on the image, which was taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) onboard the spacecraft, the canyon-like feature measures approximately 185 miles long; however, that only accounts for the segment visible in the picture.
If researchers were to measure the entire system, the Argo Chasma spreads over an overwhelming distance of 430 miles – or almost double the length of our Grand Canyon.
At the moment of writing, NASA has yet to receive information regarding the system’s depth, but scientists estimate it goes as deep as 5.5 miles. Their assessment is based on other pictures New Horizons has taken of Charon.
Researchers also identified cliffs among the features of the canyon, some of them several miles high; they could be as high as the Verona Rupes structures found on Uranus’ moon Miranda.
Image Source: Modern Readers