Alright Pluto, this is getting ridiculous. First you capture the hearts of everyone on Earth with a close-up of your own heart, then you show us a sunset that makes us re-think your geology again, and now you’re revealing your true colors — everything from deep red to blue to orange?! Are you trying to be the most interesting object in the solar system? Because you’re doing a great job.
Yesterday, NASA released the latest images beaming back to Earth from the New Horizons spacecraft, which made its historic flyby of Pluto back in July. While they all show Pluto as never before, the best of the batch has to be the breathtaking high-resolution, enhanced color map of the dwarf planet. The shot, captured by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera, combined blue, red, and infrared images to reveal a “dazzling and mystifying” landscape resolved at scales less than a mile.
The full photo is 8000 x 8000 pixels, and detailed enough to surprise us yet again with curious topographic and geological features (and to be your new wallpaper):
Click to enlarge. Full photo (75+mb) here.
Pluto’s best portrait is so detailed in fact that the New Horizons team is only just beginning to speculate about the features on a world we once assumed dead, or at least boring. Using this new world map, planetary scientists are now diving into the oddities of Pluto surface — some features even look like “snakeskin.”
“It’s a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles,” New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team deputy lead William McKinnon told NASA. “It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. 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.”
The highest resolution images of Pluto however, this time taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager back in July, show wonderfully varied landscapes. Below you can make out dunes, the hexagonal edges of ancient glacial lakes, and cracked ice mountains. (The colors were added with reference to the world map.)
“With these just-downlinked images and maps,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern in a press release, “We’ve turned a new page in the study of Pluto beginning to reveal the planet at high resolution in both color and composition.”
“I wish Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh had lived to see this day.”
For more information about the new images from New Horizons, head over to NASA.