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At Last! Pluto and Charon Up Close and Personal

Here are the first images as they come in. Look at all this good stuff. I only wish they'd shared more. Charon has surprisingly few craters and a globe-crossing system of canyons bigger than Earth's Grand Canyon. Like Pluto below, it has...

Here are the first images as they come in. Look at all this good stuff. I only wish they'd shared more. Charon has surprisingly few craters and a globe-crossing system of canyons bigger than Earth's Grand Canyon. Like Pluto below, it has a relatively young surface. At upper right, along the moon's curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 km) deep. In Charon's dark north polar region has a diffuse boundary, suggesting it's a thin deposit of dark material.

Pluto's icy mountain range turns out to be one of the youngest surfaces in the solar system. How do we know? There are practically no impact craters here. Scientists age-date a planet or moon's surface by counting craters. The more, the longer the surface has remain unchanged over time.

The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago  mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons' Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than 1% of Pluto's surface, may still be geologically active today, according to NASA's website.

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Just how Pluto could get mountains in the first place is unknown. It's not through gravitational interaction between it and another planet. There's nothing else around except Charon, and it and Pluto locked to face each other long ago. "This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds," said GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

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