NASA Shows Off Psychedelic Pluto

The colours show differences in composition. NASA

Astronomers working on New Horizons have released a false color picture of Pluto to highlight subtle differences in soil composition between the dwarf planet’s distinct regions.

The image was produced using a technique called principal component analysis. The true colors (which, to the naked eye, appear very similar) are given new values that are independent from each other, and can make them appear different. In this way, the variation of Pluto’s surface can be highlighted more easily.

Although the image is funky to look at, it has important scientific consequences. It is interesting to notice how the Sputnik Planum (the left part of Pluto’s heart) is a mostly uniform mauve color. This area is believed to have been formed very recently (a few hundred million years at the most) as scientists weren’t able to find any big meteor craters.

The images were taken during the closest approach on July 14 at 11:11 AM UTC, from 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) over the planet’s surface. It was snapped by the Ralph telescope's several instruments, which photographed the planet in different wavelengths.

Produced by New Horizons' surface composition team, the image was first shown at the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland. It was presented by Dr Will Grundy, who is a co-investigator on NASA’s New Horizons.

The full scale picture can be seen on the NASA website.

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