Pluto and Charon with the Hubble Space Telescope: I. Monitoring global change and improved surface propertices from light curves

M. W. Buie, W. M. Grundy, E. F. Young, L. A. Young, and S. A. Stern
AJ 139, 1117-1127 (2010).


We present new light-curve measurements of Pluto and Charon taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys High-resolution Camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. The observations were collected from 2002 June to 2003 June at 12 distinct sub-Earth longitudes over a range of solar phase angle 0.36–1.74 degrees -- a larger range than previously measured. The new measurements of Pluto show that the light-curve amplitude has decreased since the mutual event season in the late 1980s. We also show that the average brightness has increased in the F555W (Johnson V equivalent) passband while the brightness has decreased in the F435W (Johnson B equivalent) passband. These data thus indicate a substantial reddening of the reflected light from Pluto. We find a weighted mean (B−V) = 0.9540 ± 0.0010 that is considerably higher than the long-standing value of (B−V) = 0.868 ± 0.003 most recently measured in 1992–1993. This change in color cannot be explained by the evolving viewing geometry and provides the strongest evidence to date for temporal changes on the surface of Pluto that are expected to be linked to volatile transport processes. We also report on the discovery of a new rotational modulation of Pluto’s hemispherical color that ranges from 0.92 to 0.98 with the least red color at the longitude of maximum light and most red at minimum light. The phase coefficient of Pluto is nearly the same as measured in 1992–1993 with a value of beta_B = 0.0392 ± 0.0064 and beta_V = 0.0355 ± 0.0045 mag deg−1 for the F435W and F555W data, respectively. The Pluto phase curve is still very close to linear but a small but significant nonlinearity is seen in the data. In contrast, the light curve of Charon is essentially the same as in 1992/1993, albeit with much less noise. We confirm that Charon’s Pluto-facing hemisphere is 8% brighter than the hemisphere facing away from Pluto. The color of Charon is independent of longitude and has a mean weighted value of (B−V) = 0.7315 ± 0.0013. The phase curve for Charon is now shown to be strongly nonlinear and wavelength dependent. We present results for both Pluto and Charon that better constrain the single-particle scattering parameters from the Hapke scattering theory.

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