Charon was discovered in 1978 by Jim Christy. Prior to that it was thought that Pluto was much larger since the images of Charon and Pluto were blurred together.
Charon is unusual in that it is the largest moon with respect to its primary planet in the Solar System (a distinction once held by Earth’s Moon). Some prefer to think of Pluto/Charon as a double planet rather than a planet and a moon.
Charon’s radius is not well known. JPL’s value of 586 has an error margin of +/-13, more than two percent. Its mass and density are also poorly known.
Pluto and Charon are also unique in that not only does Charon rotate synchronously but Pluto does, too: they both keep the same face toward one another. (This makes the phases of Charon as seen from Pluto very interesting.)
Charon’s composition is unknown, but its low density (about 2 gm/cm3) indicates that it may be similar to Saturn’s icy moons (i.e. Rhea). Its surface seems to be covered with water ice. Interestingly, this is quite different from Pluto.
Unlike Pluto, Charon does not have large albedo features, though it may have smaller ones that have not been resolved.
It has been proposed that Charon was formed by a giant impact similar to the one that formed Earth’s Moon.
It is doubtful that Charon has a significant atmosphere.
18 Aug, 2013
by cnkguy with no comments yet.