If Pluto had been a young dwarf planet growing up in San Francisco in the ’60s and listening to Jefferson Airplane, it might really look like a false-color image NASA released Thursday.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft launched back in 2006 and finally accomplished its major goal of a close Pluto flyby on July 14 of this year. It sent back a host of fascinating images, but even the images that were released in color didn’t exactly sparkle like rainbows. The closest we’ve gotten to a “wow” technicolor-style image is one that presents Pluto in enhanced color, giving it a rich dark-reddish tint.
NASA’s new look at the dwarf planet is a false-color image designed to make Pluto’s varied surface features really pop. The technique is meant “to highlight the many subtle color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions,” according to NASA. The result is a picture of Pluto that makes it look like it was hanging out backstage at a Doors concert during the heyday of LSD.
You will notice that Pluto’s heart-shaped feature ranges from beige-pink on the left to bright red on the right side. Scientists already know that an area near the point of the heart is made up of frozen crater-less plains. This region appears as a muddled peachy-yellow color with reddish streaks in the false-color image. It makes it easy to see where the smooth plains end up against raised terrain.
Pluto, long known to us as a vaguely blurry dot in space, gave up a lot of its secrets when New Horizons swooped in for a close look. The spacecraft is still sending back data gathered from the flyby.
We already know the dwarf planet is a fascinating mix of ancient craters, chaotic terrain, younger plains and a hazy atmosphere, but there are plenty more revelations to look forward to as scientists sift through and process the New Horizons information.
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