spaceSpace and Physics

Pluto In Color: Stunning Mosaic Reveals New Features On The Dwarf Planet


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

118 Pluto In Color: Stunning Mosaic Reveals New Features On The Dwarf Planet
Red, blue, and infrared were used in the new image. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

An amazing new color mosaic has been created from images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. They reveal further details of some of the sharpest views we have of the fascinating dwarf planet so far.

In the mosaic, the mountains of water-ice and the material between them are highlighted at the top, alongside the smoother region informally known as Sputnik Planum below. The images combine views from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC).


The main image has a resolution of 77 to 85 meters (250 to 280 feet) per pixel, while the color data comes in at 630 meters (2,070 feet) per pixel. This is not exactly what you would see with the human eye, though. The colors have been enhanced to show different features on the surface.

Notably, Sputnik Planum would be considerably browner if you were looking at it, while the red colour on the mountains simply highlights regions that are absorbing more infrared radiation – most likely tholins, molecules formed by the Sun shining upon compounds like methane and ethane.

The full mosaic is available to view online, while a much larger slice of Pluto is also available.

Images like these continue to reveal that Pluto is a geologically active body; smooth regions like Sputnik Planum are clearly very young, in the tens of millions of years, as they lack an abundance of craters.


Another image released yesterday shows an intricate pattern of “pits” along part of Pluto’s heart-shaped region, informally named Tombaugh Regio. These may be formed by a combination of ice fracturing and evaporating, but like other regions, the scarcity of craters here suggests they formed recently.

New Horizons is now on its way to another target in the outer Kuiper Belt, 2014 MU69, which is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) wide. It will arrive in January 2019.

Shown above is the image of the "pits" on Pluto. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


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