Images and data have been flowing in since NASA’s epic New Horizons Pluto flyby on Tuesday morning, and the latest image released shows an exaggerated colour map of Pluto and its moon Charon.
The colours here are not true colours. They’re exaggerated to highlight the differences in Pluto’s and Charon’s surface composition. Also, this is a composite image — Pluto and Charon are much farther apart than they appear in the image.
The psychedelic mix of colours tells scientists that both Pluto and Charon have complex surfaces and its got them excited about the even more-detailed surface data yet to be downloaded from the New Horizons craft.
“These images show that Pluto and Charon are truly complex worlds,” Will Grundy, New Horizons co-investigator said in a NASA release. “There’s a whole lot going on here.”
The image was captured on July 13 using the colour filters on New Horizon’s Ralph instrument. Colour maps like these will help scientists figure out the molecular make up of the ice on Pluto and Charon and how old some of their surface features (like craters) are.
The image reveals that Pluto’s “heart” doesn’t have a uniform composition. The left lobe is a light peach colour, while the right lobe is more bluish. They don’t know, for sure, what those colours mean, but additional data will likely shed some light on those mysteries.
Scientists think the deep red colour around Charon’s north pole could means the surface there is full of hydrocarbons.
We’ll know more after New Horizons finally “phones home” to mission control tonight at 8:53 p.m. EDT and finally starts beaming back its flyby data.
You can watch the countdown on NASA TV starting at 8:30 p.m.
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