Dark side of Pluto

Pluto Image In Black – Dawn With the Darkness

Not The Artists Perspective!

Smells like art spirit.. But wait, this is a Pluto image taken by a real camera!

We are quite used to come upon artists’ illuminations of solar or extra solar planets. And those are mostly the ones which we have few information or no close up pictures.
Well, especially after 2015, this is not the case for planet Pluto any more!

Beginning with its close approach dates on July 2015, New Horizons Spacecraft became a device to worship! It did not only came up with strong evidences of several Pluto facts, but also on 14 July 2015, New Horizons captured below best Pluto image of a sunny Pluto day.

Pluto image
14 July 2015: A Pluto photo captured during New Horizons Spacecraft’s closest approach. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

What’s more; just minutes after this approach, the spacecraft took the way to the other side where a Sun Eclipse scene is obtained.

Pluto Image In Black – What Do We Actually See Here?

This Pluto image is captured via New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). During the shot, spacecraft was on the far side of Pluto and distance between New Horizons Spacecraft and Pluto surface was 21550 kilometers. That took place just 19 minutes after New Horizons reached to its closest approach point.

Pluto Picture
Pluto picture of this week: Dark side of Pluto. Source: NASA

This Pluto image has a closer look to the planet than the one above, where the resolution is 430 meters per pixel. It makes sense: The framing could not include complete Pluto sphere at all!

What we see here other than 99% dark surface of Pluto, is the luminous northern part together with the slight crescent.

You can also observe the halo of Pluto’s thin atmosphere completely surrounding the planet, where it shines less especially below the equator. This picture is by far the best visual source for observing the atmosphere.

Pluto atmosphere, zoomed in
Details of Pluto atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

When you zoom in to the picture from right top, you have a great view of Pluto surface covered by clouds close the northern pole. Similarly, atmospheric layer covering those clouds is also visible. The zoomed-in top picture includes an area of 230 kilometers wide.

Although we are still not 100% sure that those are the methane clouds spotlighted by sunlight, it seems so!

For the southern parts on the other hand, it is night time and the zoomed-in part reflects a dark view of 750 kilometers long section.
The surface here seems to be quite bumpy. New Horizons Team calculations point out a maximum of 5 kilometers of altitude variation.

Pluto Image In Black – Is What You See A Real Picture?

The Ralph MVIC of New Horizons is responsible for most of the visual content detected by NH devices. It uses real visual imaging together with infrared imaging and combines those into a single picture.

On previous Pluto Picture of the Week articles, we stated that the way Ralph works was the reason itself that they are not a 100% real scene. This means, those pictures are not what we’d see with our eyes if we were onboard New Horizons during the epic flyby. Because the true surface color of Pluto is dramatically different than what it should be.

You might think it’s the same for this Pluto picture as well, considering the Sun is hidden on the other side and is far far away. Additionally, we can only see the halo and the clouds after all, and sunlight might not be enough to spot true view.

However that’s not the case! Sunlight is sufficient enough to observe a similar view with your bare eyes. But there’s another thing to consider here: The interaction between the particles in the atmosphere. Such interaction creates a blue haze layer, similar to the one we observe above Earth’s surface.

Pluto atmosphere view
A thick, blue haze layer around Pluto. This is the approximate true view from your spacecrafts’ window! Source: NASA

That’s why, this Pluto picture in black is almost the same with what you’d see (except the blue haze layer) standing by one of New Horizons’ windows.. If there were any!


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