The National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) released a set of colorful photos of Pluto. The images show slight changes in the composition of the planet’s surface and revealed many new aspects of the dwarf planet.
Scientists at NASA’s New Horizons program made a false color image of Pluto, very different from what we are used to, using a technique called principal component analysis (PCA). This technology allowed scientists to highlight the many subtle color differences in the planet’s district regions.
New Horizons collected these images with the help of its Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14th at 11:11 am UTC, from a distance of around 22,000 miles. The results surprised the researchers as they were able to find new data about the surface, including chemical composition, volcanoes, mountains and complex atmosphere of the dwarf planet.
The findings were presented this week at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland.
When scientists examined the western upper lobe of Pluto’s heart, they noticed a totally smooth surface. This could indicate that this area of the planet is no more than 10 million years old. This is only one of the many surprises found by the researchers.
The New Horizons team also revealed that Pluto’s upper atmosphere is significantly colder and more compact than previously thought. This means that Pluto’s atmospheric escape rate is thousands of times lower than believed. Originally, scientists thought that a bubble nearly 7 to 8 times larger than the planet itself needed to be created to puff out from the surface, but the new data shows that the extended atmosphere is only about 2.5 times larger than Pluto.
Another discovery refers to Pluto’s moons and the way they spin around the planet. The data shows that the 4 smallest moons are spinning around the planet in “pandemonium.”
“New Horizons is flying to Pluto –the biggest, brightest and most complex of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt. This 21st-century encounter is going to be an exploration bonanza unparalleled in anticipation since the storied missions of Voyager in the 1980s,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, about the program.
At this moment, New Horizon’s spacecraft is moving even closer to the Kuiper Belt. This mission will provide more information to NASA scientist that will help them find out more about the universe.