NASA just released the sharpest images of Pluto, yet. What’s more, unlike the usual black-and-white photos of Pluto we’re used to seeing, this latest set reveals Pluto in stunning colour.
The photo below has been informally named “snakeskin” for its distinct, textured appearance.
“It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology,” said William McKinnon, who is a member of the NASA team that sent the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto last July, said in NASA’s press release.
“This’ll really take time to figure out; maybe it’s some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto’s faint sunlight.”
NASA made history when they became the first to ever visit the distant dwarf planet, Pluto, and its 5-moon system last July.
Though the spacecraft is now millions of miles past Pluto, it continues to transmit the data it took of the distant world’s surface. And these latest images show some incredibly interesting features including mountain ranges, dunes, and the shorelines of shrinking glacial lake of ice.
Here’s the sharpest close-up of a section of the southern half of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature. To the left are mountain ranges and crater pits and to the right is the smooth, nearly feature-less surface of the region known as Sputnik Planum.
These new colour-images are the results of data taken from two of the cameras on board New Horizons called Ralph and the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
The LORRI camera takes all of the original photos you see first in black-and-white. Then, Ralph, which is equipped with different coloured filters that astronomers combine, is what gives a colourful look at Pluto’s surface.
Here’s an even closer look at that small, island feature to the very right of the photo above. This photo show an impressively small region of Pluto that is just 75 miles across:
Before this image, scientists had believed Sputnik Planum to be a smooth region. But you can see that it is actually pockmarked with “dense patterns of pits, low ridges, and scalloped terrain,” NASA stated. “Dune of bright volatile ice particles are a possible explanation.”
Scientists believe that Sputnik Planum’s relatively bright colour comes from nitrogen snow dusting its surface.
“With these just-downlinked images and maps, we’ve turned a new page in the study of Pluto beginning to reveal the planet at high resolution in both colour and composition,” said Alan Stern, who is New Horizons Principal Investigator.
NOW WATCH: This animation shows the complex features of Pluto, which rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system
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