Pluto image

Best Pluto Picture Ever – Our Precious

Tremendous Pluto Pictures from New Horizons

No question: This is the best Pluto picture till now!

It was 14 July 2015 when this beautiful day scene of Pluto surface was shot by New Horizons Spacecraft. This totally blew our minds and push our jaws down!

You can see planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (and Uranus, if you try hard enough) with your bare eyes. On the other hand, although she is on higher ranks in terms of albedo; our pal Pluto is couple of billion kilometers away from us. That’s why you can not do the same.

From the day of Pluto discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, we had different pictures of her. This is valid especially after the Hubble Space Telescope was in service, as it is the first source to image Pluto and Charon in details in 1994.

In addition, there has been quite many artists works after observation of Pluto atmosphere was initiated in 1988.

But from the date of capturing this best Pluto picture till today, this is the clearest picture of Pluto we have ever had without further calibrations.

Best Pluto Picture Ever – What Do We Actually See Here?

Here are some technical details about this Pluto picture.

While New Horizons Spacecraft consists of seven different instruments to analyze and interpret different kinds of spectrometric data from planet Pluto, this colored image was captured by Ralph Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). MVIC is one of the imagers onboard New Horizons responsible for visible and infrared imaging.

Pluto picture by New Horizons
What were we saying? Best Pluto picture ever! Source:NASA

The image is taken with quite high resolution, revealing details as small as 1.3 kilometers.

On this Pluto image, you can clearly see different shades of white, red, blue, orange and yellow. About the meaning of those colors and the surface shape, researchers are still working for better specific explanations. However, what we currently know for sure is the existence of layers of tholins on the red areas. See Pluto facts article about details of tholin formation.

Additionally, as the planet surface is extremely cold (below -200°C); all material on the surface is frozen and in ice form. This is where the white color comes from.

Beneath those red areas or on other parts of planet surface, dominant material is nitrogen ice. According to detailed surface analysis, remaining materials are methane, carbon monoxide and water ice.

Since we have an image with this high resolution; we can easily see huge craters appearing like bubbles, wide valleys and huge icy mountains. Seems like a proper piece of rock we know! This didn’t help Pluto to remain as a planet though..

Best Pluto Picture Ever – Is What You See A Real Image?

Often space agencies and astronomical organizations come up with various “breaking news”. As you might remember from 10 April 2019 and the huge excitement initiated days before, it was announced that an image of a black hole will be published.

It actually was an image of a black holes’ (the one in the center of M87 galaxy) event horizon and the materials spreading out. What is more; it was an astonishing step for astronomy and physics, but the truth is it’s not an ordinary “photo” as you might think.

Famous and glorious black hole image from April 2019, by EHT. Source here, Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

For interpreting this final image, the radio wave data is collected from a couple of radio telescopes around the world. And petabytes of data is processed. However, none of the image data collected consists of visible light source.

Visible light sources are simply electromagnetic radiation in specific interval of wavelengths. In case there is an electromagnetic radiation source emitting radiation within this interval, our eyes are programmed to see and our neural system is programmed to interpret it. If it’s outside this interval, we simply can not see it.

All in all, what you see on this Pluto image is basically a combination of visible blue and red images together with infrared images collected by Ralph. Again, infrared radio waves are not visible to human eye but it’s a crucial source for astronomical measurements.

That’s why, the colors on this image does not really reflect the true surface colors. In case you were a space traveller to pay a flying visit, dominant surface color would be brownish instead of red.

For details of more realistic interpretation and calibrated version of this image, check out True Colors of Pluto article.


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