Scientists working with the New Horizons project created a new false color image of Pluto using principal component analysis to highlight the many subtle color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions.
The spacecraft’s Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14 at 11:11 AM UTC collected the image data from a distance of 22,000 miles. Will Grundy of the New Horizons’ surface composition team presented the image on Nov. 9 at the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland.
New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Colorado, said on Monday at the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, “It’s a huge finding that small planets can be active on a massive scale, billions of years after their creation.”
Pluto, the dwarf planet, has been the prime subject of NASA’s New Horizons project since last year. However, studying all this data sent by New Horizons to form an exact picture of the way Pluto appears was not as simple as it may sound.
The info regarding the dwarf planet and its hemisphere is crucial from a scientific point of view. All of these recent findings altered beliefs about Pluto and provided a huge amount of information for scientists.
Last year in July, NASA’s New Horizons mission reached Pluto and since then scientists were awed by the new findings and changes on the surface of Pluto, most likely by new geological processes.
New Horizons has been persistently sending awesome HD quality images of Pluto for over a year now, allowing scientists to understand more about this relatively new planet that is believed to be only about 10 million years old.
Images sent by New Horizons till now reveal the small, icy plains, chemical composition, mountains and data on Pluto’s complex atmosphere.
Many significant findings were shared by the team during this meeting. Apart from age estimates for other regions of Pluto, the scientists also announced new data about Pluto’s small and hazy appearing atmosphere.
Since the surface of a planetary body has no age proof, astronomers rely on techniques counting the numbers of craters to find the way the planet’s surface has changed.
These include findings like discovery of possible ice volcanoes on Pluto’s surface, and proof that the four of the tiniest moons of Pluto are rotating around the Pluto in “pandemonium.”
The Sputnik Planum, which is the large western lobe of the center on the dwarf planet’s surface has no craters. This reveals that geologic processes made the surface of the planet smooth. NASA’s New Horizons mission scientists, however, find this to be surprising, since such geological activities need a heat source, that is usually missing in smaller heavenly structures like Pluto.
Scientists find that the more the surface of a planet is cratered, the older it is in age. This is because processes like glaciers, earthquakes, landslides, windstorms and active volcanoes result in a smoother surface and filling up of craters.
You could relate craters on the surface of a planet to wrinkles on the face of a human. More craters suggest that a planet is ageing.