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Charon (moon)

Pluto and Charon
Discovered by James W. Christy
Discovered in 1978 June 22
Orbital characteristics
Semimajor axis 19,405 km
Eccentricity 0.0
Orbital period 6 day 9 h 18 min
Inclination 99.089 °
Is a satellite of Pluto
Physical characteristics
Mean diameter 1186 km
Mass 1.90×1021 kg
Mean density 2.24 g/cm3
Surface gravity 0.368 m/s2
Rotation period 6 day 9 h 18 min
Axial tilt unknown
Albedo 0.37
Atmosphere none

Charon is the only known satellite of Pluto. It was discovered by astronomer James Christy on June 22, 1978 by carefully examining highly magnified images of Pluto on photographic plates taken a couple of months before and noticing that a slight bulge appeared periodically. Later, the bulge was confirmed on plates dating back to 1965 April 29. It received the temporary designation 1978 P 1, according to the then-recently instituted convention.

Christy named it after the Greek mythological figure Charon but pronounced it differently. The "ch" at the beginning of the moon's name is soft so it sounds like "Sharon," after the astronomer's wife Charlene, nicknamed Char, which both have soft ch sounds. The mythological figure's name is pronounced with a hard "ch" sound like the modern letter "k", like "ch" in Christy's name. The name "Charon" was officially accepted by the IAU in 1985.

The discovery of Charon allowed astronomers to more accurately calculate Pluto's mass and size. Charon revolves around Pluto in 6.387 days, the same period as Pluto's rotation. The two objects are gravitationally locked (tidal locking) so they each keep the same face towards the other.

Charon's diameter is 1,172 kilometers (728 miles), just under half the size of Pluto. It has 1/7th the mass of Pluto, and a surface area of 4,400,000 km2. Unlike Pluto, which is covered in nitrogen ice, Charon appears to be coated in water ice.

Due to the unusually small difference in size between it and Pluto, Pluto and Charon are sometimes considered to be a double planet. They are also sometimes thought of as not a planet and a satellite, but as the first two Trans-Neptunian objects.

External links

Pluto | Charon | (Solar system)

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See also astronomical objects and the solar system's list of objects, sorted by radius or mass

Last updated: 11-07-2004 01:11:05