The Far Side of Pluto


nh-pluto-atmosphere-infraredThis 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.

Image Credit: NASA

Nix


Nix is one of Pluto’s small moons. It was discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005. It was the best imaged of the small moons by the New Horizons spacecraft during the 2015 flyby of Pluto. This is the highest-resolution image of Nix. On 14 July, 2015, the basic image was captured in grayscale by LORRI camera and color has been added based on other images from Ralph MVIC.

Image Credit: NASA

Charon Lit by Plutoshine


This image was taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera aboard New Horizons on 15 July, 2015, when the spacecraft was around 160,000 km beyond Pluto. It shows the night side the moon Charon against a star field. Charon, which about the size of Texas, is mostly lit by faint light reflected from Pluto. The bright crescent on Charon’s right edge is a bit of sunlit terrain, overexposed compared to the rest of the image.

Image Credits: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

Pluto Paints Charon Red


full-res-charonThe New Horizons spacecraft took this high-resolution, enhanced color photo of Pluto’s largest moon Charon just before closest approach on 14 July, 2015. This image was created by combining blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. It’s been processed to highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. The reddish material in the north (top) polar region (informally known as Mordor Macula) is methane that has escaped from Pluto’s atmosphere and been captured by Charon. Charon is 1,214 km across, and this image resolves details as small as 2.9 km.

Image Credit: NASA

The Dark Side of Pluto


PlutoNightNew 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.

Image Credit: NASA

The Ice Moon Hydra


hydraThe New Horizons spacecraft is still sending back data from its fly by of Pluto and the planet’s moons.  New data show the surface of Hydra, Pluto’s outermost small moon, is dominated by nearly pristine water ice. The infrared spectral data show the unmistakable signature of crystalline water ice: a broad absorption at wavelengths from 1.50 to 1.60 µm and a narrower water-ice spectral feature around 1.65 µm. Hydra’s spectrum is similar to that of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, which is also dominated by crystalline water ice. However, Hydra’s water-ice absorption bands are more pronounced than Charon’s, which could mean that ice grains on Hydra’s surface are larger or reflect more light at certain angles than the grains on Charon.

Hydra is thought to have formed in an icy debris disk produced when water-rich mantles were stripped from a pair of bodies that collided to form the Pluto-Charon binary system about 4 billion years ago.

Image Credit: NASA

Pluto Backlit in Infrared


nh-pluto-atmosphere-infraredThis image from the New Horizons spacecraft is 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.

The whitish patches around Pluto’s limb are from sunlight bouncing off more reflective or smoother areas on its surface.

Image Credit: NASA

Smog on Pluto


Hazy LimbThis picture was clipped out of the the highest-resolution color image available so far of the haze layers in Pluto’s atmosphere. New Horizons mission scientists don’t believe the haze is the result of SUVs on Pluto’s freeways. Their theory is that it’s a photochemical smog resulting from the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules in Pluto’s atmosphere producing a complex mixture of hydrocarbons such as acetylene and ethylene.  These hydrocarbons accumulate into tiny particles less than a micrometer across and scatter sunlight, causing the blue haze. As they settle down through the atmosphere, the haze particles stratify into horizontal layers, some extending for hundreds of km around Pluto and extend to altitudes of over 200 km.

The irregularities along Pluto’s limb are surface features such as mountains. The blue fuzz over the planet near the limb is made of crepuscular rays of light extending from Pluto’s topographic features.

Image Credit: NASA

“Stained Glass” Pluto


This false color movie drifting across Pluto by was recorded by LEISA infrared imaging spectrometer aboard New Horizons during the 14 July fly by. The discovery of water ice on Pluto was made using this LEISA data. The movie has been sped up about 17 X from its raw frame rate, and the infrared wavelengths that LEISA detects have been translated into visual colors.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iixo6Ongj8c]

Video Credit: NASA

Space Weather for Pluto


This video shows a simulation of the space weather environment all the way out to Pluto for the months surrounding the New Horizons July, 2015, flyby. Space weather researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center worked with the New Horizons team to test how well models contributed by scientists around the world predicted the environment at Pluto. Understanding the environment through which our spacecraft travel can allow engineers to design them to survive radiation and other potentially damaging effects.

The vacuum of space is about a thousand times emptier than a laboratory vacuum, but it’s still not completely empty. The Sun continually sends out streams of particles called the solar wind and occasionally throws off denser clouds of particles known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs—both containing embedded magnetic fields. The density, speed, and temperature of these particles, as well as the direction and strength of the embedded magnetic fields, make up the space weather environment.

[youtube http://youtu.be/o-LVK5TuKcA]

Video Credit: NASA