This roughly true color picture was constructed from a mosaic of six black-and-white images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager aboard the New Horizons space craft when it was about 200,000 km beyond Pluto. The color added from a lower resolution Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera color image.
The haze is a smog resulting from the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules in Pluto’s atmosphere producing a complex mixture of hydrocarbons that accumulate into small haze particles. As the particles settle down through the atmosphere scattering blue light from the Sun, the smogs forms layers extending to altitudes of over 200 km.
Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system,with hundreds of erupting volcanoes blasting lava up to 400 km high. While the New Horizons spacecraft was flying by Jupiter for a gravity assist on its way to Pluto, it took these pictures of an eruption on Io.
A plume rises from a volcano over Jupiter’s moon Io in this image taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. The volcano Tvashtar is marked by the bright glow at the moon’s edge, beyond the day/night shadow line. The shadow of Io cuts across the plume itself. The image was recorded when the spacecraft was 2.3 million km from Io during a slingshot maneuver around Jupiter which provided a boost in the New Horizons‘ velocity for the spacecraft’s encounter Pluto in 2015 and the Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth in 2019.
This is one of the best images of Pluto’s third-largest moon from the New Horizons flyby in 2015. It was taken on 14 July at a range of about 23,000 km from Nix. The illuminated is about 19 km by 47 km.
There are a couple of planet and moon pairs in the Solar System with moons sufficiently large that an outside observer might catalog them as double planets. The Earth and the Moon are one pare. Pluto and its largest moon Charon are the other.
This mosaic is composed of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its flyby of the distant planet on July 14, 2015.
Here’s NASA’s description of the image:
This mosaic is composed of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its flyby of the distant planet on July 14, 2015. The pictures are part of a sequence taken near New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, with resolutions of about 250-280 feet (77-85 meters) per pixel — revealing features smaller than half a city block on Pluto’s diverse surface. The images include a wide variety of spectacular, cratered, mountainous and glacial terrains — giving scientists and the public alike a breathtaking, super-high resolution window on Pluto’s geology. The images form a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide trending from Pluto’s jagged horizon about 500 miles (800 kilometers) northwest of the informally named Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, onto the shoreline of Sputnik Planum and then across its icy plains. They were made with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons, over a timespan of about a minute centered on 11:36 UT on July 14 — just about 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto — from a range of just 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers). They were obtained with an unusual observing mode; instead of working in the usual “point and shoot,” LORRI snapped pictures every three seconds while the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons was scanning the surface. This mode requires unusually short exposures to avoid blurring the images.
New Horizons was about 21,000 kilometers beyond Pluto, about 19 minutes after its closest approach, when it took this picture. The image also reveals Pluto’s tenuous and complex layers of hazy atmosphere. The crescent twilight landscape near the top of the frame are areas on the south of the planet including the nitrogen ice plains informally known as Sputnik Planum and rugged mountains of water-ice in the Norgay Montes.
This image from the New Horizons spacecraft is our first look at Pluto’s atmosphere in infrared wavelengths. It was taken after the spacecraft was beyond Pluto’s orbit, so the planet is backlit with sunlight coming from above and behind. New Horizons was about 180,000 km beyond Pluto. The false color image codes wavelengths around 1.25 µm as blue, 2.5 µm as red, and intermediate wavelengths as green. North in this image is at roughly 10 o’clock.
The blue band is the result of sunlight being scattered by haze particles in the planet’s atmosphere, haze which is suspected of being photochemical smog caused by the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules. These form hydrocarbons such as acetylene and ethylene which accumulate into small particles. The µm-sized scatter sunlight giving the haze its blue tint. It looks blue in visible light too.
The whitish patches around Pluto’s limb are from sunlight bouncing off more reflective or smoother areas on its surface.
This picture of Neptune was produced from the last whole planet images taken through the green and orange filters on the Voyager 2 narrow angle camera. The images were taken on 31 years ago at a range of about 7 million km, 4 days and 20 hours before closest approach on 25 August, 1989. The picture shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge. The fast moving bright feature called “Scooter” and the little dark spot are visible near the western limb. These clouds were seen to persist for as long as Voyager‘s cameras could resolve them. A bright cloud band similar to the south polar streak may be seen to the north.
Six years ago, the New Horizons spacecraft crossed the orbit of Neptune today on its way to Pluto, but Neptune was not nearby. In July,2014, New Horizons took this picture of Neptune from almost 4 billion km away.Image Credit: NASA
New Horizons images of the Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth taken from many angles have been used to determine its 3D shape, providing insight into the KBO’s origins. The flattened shapes of the two lobes and the tight alignment of their poles and equators are evidence an orderly, gentle merger of two objects forming from the same cloud of particles. Arrokoth appears to have come together slowly, growing from “locally-sourced” materials found in a small part of the early solar nebula. Such an object would not have formed in a more chaotic accretion environment.
Video Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI / James Tuttle Keane
The moon is this image is Charon. The image obtained with the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. It shows the night side of Pluto’s largest moon Charon against a star field, lit by faint, reflected light from Pluto itself.
This image from the New Horizons spacecraft was our first look at Pluto’s atmosphere in infrared wavelengths. The planet is backlit with sunlight coming from above and behind. The image was captured captured just after the flyby on 14 July, 2015, while New Horizons was about 180,000 km beyond Pluto. The false color image codes wavelengths around 1.25 µm as blue, 2.5 µm as red, and intermediate wavelengths as green. North in this image is at roughly 10 o’clock.
The blue band is the result of sunlight being scattered by haze particles in the planet’s atmosphere, haze which is suspected of being photochemical smog caused by the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules. These form hydrocarbons such as acetylene and ethylene which accumulate into small particles. The µm-sized scatter sunlight giving the haze its blue tint. It looks blue in visible light too. No SUVs were detected during the flyby, so this is likely a natural process. Note that Pluto is moving further from the Sun for the next century or so (it’s orbit is highly eccentric), so it is experiencing global cooling.
The whitish patches around Pluto’s limb are from sunlight bouncing off more reflective or smoother areas on its surface.
This composite image of Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (aka Ultima Thule) isfeatured on the cover of the May, 2017 issue of the journal Science. It was compiled from data obtained by the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by Ultima Thule on New Years Day. The image combines color data with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures to present the view as the human I would see it.
Image Credits: NASA / JHUAPL ./ SWRI / Roman Tkachenko
Here’s NASA’s description of this brief video: This animation depicts a shape model of Ultima Thule created by the New Horizons science team based on its analysis of all the pre-flyby images sent to Earth so far. The first half of the movie mimics the view from the New Horizons spacecraft as it approached Ultima Thule and has the “snowman” shape that was so frequently mentioned in the days surrounding the New Year’s 2019 flyby. The movie then rotates to a side-view that illustrates what New Horizons might have seen had its cameras been pointing toward Ultima Thule only a few minutes after closest approach. While that wasn’t the case, mission scientists have been able to piece together a model of this side-view, which has been at least partially confirmed by a set of crescent images of Ultima Thule (link). There is still considerable uncertainty in the sizes of “Ultima” (the larger section, or lobe) and “Thule” (the smaller) in the vertical dimension, but it’s now clear that Ultima looks more like a pancake than a sphere, and that Thule is also very non-spherical. The rotation in this animation is not the object’s actual rotation, but is used purely to illustrate its shape.
This animation was assembled from images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager after the spacecraft flew past Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day. The central frame of the sequence was taken on at 05:42:42 UT when the spacecraft was 8,862 km past the Kuiper Belt Object and 6.6 billion km from Earth. The KBO’s illuminated crescent is blurred in the individual frames because long exposure times were required boost the camera’s signal level. The Sun’s light is roughly 2000X dimmer at Ultima Thule that here on Earth. This is the farthest movie of any object in our Solar System ever made by a spacecraft.
The New Horizons spacecraft took this picture of Ultima Thule as part the last check on its flyby trajectory. The image on left is the the raw data. The KBO is so small that it only occupies two pixels. The image on the right is a processed version that show gives a general view of its shape. Ultima Thule is far enough away that radio signals take a bit over six hours to travel to Earth. As I’m posting this, the first flyby data has just been received.
The New Horizons team at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has been busy preparing for the spacecraft’s flyby of the Kuiper Belt Object nicknamed Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day. This update was posted on 28 December.
Video Credit: JHUAPL
BTW, Mrs Hoge and I met Alan Stern at a sushi bar in Columbia, Maryland, several years before New Horizons launched. We had been to a medical appointment and stopped for lunch, and he sat down a few seats down the bar from us. In the course of our conversation, I found out that he was in the area to pitch the idea of the Pluto flyby mission to NASA, and I’ve been following the project’s progress ever since.
Ultima Thule is a nickname for the Kuiper Belt Object known as 2104 MU69. The picture above is an overlay of 5 images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The images were taken at 10-minute intervals on 24 June, 2014. The positions of 2014 MU69 in the images are shown by the green circles.
On New Year’s Day, 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by Ultima Thule. The science objectives of the flyby include imaging the KBO to determine its shape, geology, and surface composition. The surrounding environment will be scanned to detect any possible moons, coma, or rings.
New Horizons made its first detection of 2014 MU69 on 16 August, 2018, at a distance 172 million km. At that time, 2014 MU69 appeared as a magnitude 20 object from New Horizon‘s point of view. It won’t appear at naked eye brightness (magnitude 6) until the spacecraft is within 3 to 4 hours of closest approach.