NASA has released the sharpest images yet of Pluto. What's more, unlike the usual black-and-white photos of Pluto we're used to seeing, this latest set reveals Pluto in stunning color.
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, a member of the NASA team that sent the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto in July, 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 it became the first to visit the distant dwarf planet and its five-moon system in 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 a 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 featureless surface of the region known as Sputnik Planum:
These new color images are the results of data taken from two of the cameras onboard New Horizons called Ralph and the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager.
The LORRI camera takes all of the original photos you see first in black and white. Then, Ralph, equipped with different colored filters that astronomers combine, is what gives a colorful look at Pluto's surface.
Here's an even closer look at that small island feature to the right of the photo above.
This photo shows a small region of Pluto that's 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 Sputnik Planum's relatively bright color 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 color and composition," said Alan Stern, the New Horizons principal investigator.
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