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Land of Explorers

It’s definitely not Kansas. But it is home to one of the state’s favorite characters, Dorothy Gale. Captain Nemo is there, too. And so are Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick – the creators of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Charon is the largest moon of Pluto. It’s about 750 miles in diameter – a third the size of our own moon.

The New Horizons mission gave us our only close look at it in 2015. It found that Charon has a dark orange “beanie” cap – ices that wafted off the surface of Pluto. It has a thousand-mile “belt” of canyons around its equator. And several big impact craters are carved in its icy surface.

The International Astronomical Union has named about a dozen of those features. All of the names are related to exploration – places, writers, or vessels connected with real or imagined lands.

One of the canyons, for example, is Argo Chasma. It’s named for the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts. It has some of the tallest cliffs in the solar system – up to six miles high. The “beanie cap” is called Mordor Macula, after a character from “Lord of the Rings.” Gases from Pluto form a fresh coating of ice at the north pole. The ice turns orange when in the sunlight. And a mountain is named for Octavia Butler, a science-fiction author.

Many other features are waiting to be named. All of the names will follow the same theme – honoring the spirit of exploration.

We’ll talk about some current explorers tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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