Since last year, NASA has been capturing close-up shots of the solar system’s dwarf planet: Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft, which reached one of the farthest objects in our solar system after a near decade long journey, has been continuously beaming us never-before-seen images and close up shots of Pluto. In the latest set of images released by NASA captured using the Ralph/MVIC color camera on board New Horizons, new data about the surface of Pluto, its chemical composition, and other geological features of the dwarf planet has come to light.
According to NASA, the psychedelic image released recently (embedded below and above) highlight the many subtle color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions. The image gets its “psychedelic” tag owing to the fact that it is a false color image of Pluto that was created using a technique known as principal component analysis. It is a fascinating image to look at — even for someone who is not that much into astronomy.
The image was captured earlier this year on July 14 at 11:11 a.m., UTC, a NASA press release confirmed. At the time of capture, New Horizon was 22,000 miles above the surface of Pluto.
Meanwhile, at the recent 47th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland, new data received from New Horizons about Pluto were discussed at length.
Thanks to data from New Horizons, scientists have managed to establish that Pluto is a relatively very young planet with some experts believing it is less than 10 million-years-old. While that might sound like eternity for some, it is still negligible compared to other objects in the solar system most of which are thought to be over 4.5 billion-years-old. Another new facet that New Horizons has come forth with is the fact that the upper atmosphere of Pluto happens to be way colder than what we initially thought. Pluto also has a smaller atmosphere than previously thought. While earlier estimates put the upper atmosphere to be spread quite far out, making a bubble seven or eight times the size of the planet, it is now thought that the upper atmosphere is just 2.5 times the size of Pluto.
Another new facet that has been discovered about Pluto is the haphazard manner in which the moons of Pluto orbit the dwarf planet. According to new data, the smallest four moons of Pluto are spinning around the planet in “pandemonium.”
According to info from New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern from the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Colorado, who was speaking at the annual meeting, the new findings pertaining to Pluto was a “huge find.”
“It’s a huge finding that small planets can be active on a massive scale, billions of years after their creation.”
Scientists and researchers at NASA are still receiving colossal amounts of data that New Horizons has managed capture and send. It will take them a few years before they can process and make sense of all the data that they have received so far from Pluto. The spacecraft itself has now completed the flyby of Pluto and is now traveling farther away from us towards the Kuiper belt where some of the most distant objects of our solar system are located. From 2016 until 2019 it will continue to study several objects in the Kuiper belt. The fuel onboard the spacecraft is expected to last till 2026.
[Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI]