The Pluto-Charon system as revealed during the mutual events

1990 1990

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Abstract (summary)

This year is the last of a five-year interval when the Earth passes through the orbital plane of Pluto and its satellite Charon, causing alternate transits and occultations of the satellite as seen from Earth. Spectrophotometric observations of the system made both in and out of eclipse have been obtained in the visual and near-infrared. The Pluto-Charon system is found to be compositionally diverse, a result unanticipated before the mutual events. Water frost has been identified and is ubiquitous on Charon's surface, while Pluto has a methane veneer. The spectral activity of Pluto's methane is seen to vary with rotational phase, i.e., planetary longitude. On Pluto, surface albedo appears to be correlated with composition. Dark regions tend to be redder and depleted in methane relative to bright regions. Dependence of geometric albedo with wavelength has been calculated for both bodies, from 0.4 to 2.4 $\mu$m. The albedo model of Marcialis (1983, 1988) has emerged favorably after several severe tests.

Accurate radii and system bulk density derived from the mutual events have been used to construct models of phenomena unanticipated a decade ago. Charon's gravity is feeble enough that it could have shed a substantial primordial methane inventory to space and to Pluto, thereby explaining its different surface composition and lower albedo. Recent interior models are used to show that viscous relaxation of topography is expected to be significant on Pluto but not on Charon. Horizontal topographic features on the primary probably are limited in extent to less than a few tens of kilometers (or are geologically young), much as has been found subsequently for Triton. Globally, Pluto's figure is essentially hydrostatic.

Astrometric observations of the system are presented, as is evidence that the discovery of Charon just seven years before the initial mutual events was not fortuitous, but most probable. The astrometry will help to refine Pluto's orbit, making prediction of future stellar occultations by the system more reliable.

Indexing (details)

0606: Astronomy
0606: Astrophysics
Identifier / keyword
Pure sciences; Charon
The Pluto-Charon system as revealed during the mutual events
Marcialis, Robert Louis
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-B 51/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Hubbard, William B.; Lebofsky, Larry A.
The University of Arizona
University location
United States -- Arizona
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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