Plutonian Eye Candy

By Tom Yulsman | October 15, 2015 9:02 pm
eye candy

Pluto, up close. (Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

The first detailed science about Pluto revealed by the spectacularly successful New Horizons mission has just been published. So I thought I’d use that as an occasion to share some Plutonian eye candy — a particularly sweet image of this surprisingly dynamic planet.

The high-resolution image above combines visual data collected in the blue, red and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum a camera on the spacecraft. The bright expanse is the western lobe of what has come to be called the “heart,” a region found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices.

The paper just published in the journal Science is the first installment of much more new knowledge to come about Pluto in the months ahead. It will be coming in slowly as New Horizons sends back the trove of data it has gathered. (It will take until late 2016 for all of the data to be transmitted.)

Just from the first installment, we’ve already learned some surprising things. Pluto’s surface is marvelously diverse. It features a wide variety of geological landforms that are the product of impacts, glacial action, interactions between the atmosphere and the surface, tectonic movements of the crust, and possibly cryovolcanoes.

In fact, Pluto has turned out to be much more geologically active than expected. As the 151 co-authors of the scientific paper published in Science, put it:

Pluto’s diverse surface geology and long-term activity also raise fundamental questions about how it has remained active many billions of years after its formation.

Stay tuned for more surprises — and sweet eye candy.

  • OWilson


    But, I would prefer to see these NASA images in their natural color (as they would appear to the human eye) so we could get feel for what it actually looks like.

    But this is show biz, after all, and they have to be photoshopped for today’s public consumption :)

    • coreyspowell

      You can access all of the raw images from the New Horizons LORRI (long-range imaging) camera online:

      • OWilson

        Thanks, I did.

        Looks just like our moon, dull and grey.

        Hardly “eye candy” :)

      • Tom Yulsman

        Corey: Don’t mind Mr. Wilson. He seems to have a difficult time finding joy even in simple things like awe-inspiring images of far away worlds. But I’ll keep trying to offer some inspiration.

        • OWilson

          On the contrary, Tom, I find much pleasure in the natural world, but those spectacular Hubble images that get the funding machine in high gear, and look great on school and office walls, are not “natural”.

          Most average folks are unaware of that fact.

          A sparrow is not a parrot!

    • Nate

      Actually the original pictures themselves are taken under different wavelengths to provide more scientific value. Frankly, our optical range isn’t all that helpful when it comes to analysiing chemical makeup, density, reflectivity, etc

      • OWilson

        I was being facetious. I understand the why.

        I’d just like to see what an astranought would see. Most of the spectacular pictures up in science classrooms I see, do not represent a human perspective.

  • John C

    Amazing. Also, my favorite planet to pronounce. Say it with me. Plu-to

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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