Kubrick and Clarke reunited as mountains on Pluto’s moon Charon

Enlarge / That's Kubrick Mons to you, sir! (credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

On Wednesday, the International Astronomical Union officially announced the names of features on Pluto's moon Charon. The features were revealed when the New Horizons probe shot past Pluto and its five moons, and the names were provided by the public. While astronomers working on the New Horizons data had been using the monikers provisionally, the IAU's announcement makes them formal designations that will be used in all scientific publications about Charon.

While four of Pluto's moons are so small that New Horizons captured them as pixellated blobs, Charon is quite different. And, while all moons and their planets orbit a common center of gravity, usually the size difference is large enough that the center of gravity resides inside the planet. The Pluto-Charon system is the big exception, as the size difference between the two is small enough that Pluto orbits a point that's located outside the dwarf planet's radius. That makes Charon one of the largest bodies among the icy worlds of the Kuiper Belt, and it's the second largest body we've gotten a detailed look at.

While Charon doesn't seem to be as dynamic as Pluto, it does have many notable features, including large peaks, deep canyons, and massive craters, as well as a dusting of material that has evaporated off Pluto. In 2015, the public was invited to give these names; the New Horizons team informally adopted a number of suggestions, and the IAU has made them official. The theme of the names centers around travel and exploration, often (but not always) with a connection to the underworld or the deeps.

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