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December 27, 2015

Pluto gets rainbow-hued in NASA’s latest images

by John_A

Pluto may have been imaged six ways from Sunday, but it’s clear that the New Horizons probe still has a few surprises up its sleeve. NASA has posted both a photo and a video showing how the spacecraft can produce vibrant colors from the seemingly drab-looking dwarf planet. The key is New Horizons’ infrared spectrometer. Its linearly-varying filter produces a stained glass window effect as it looks for reflected chemicals, like in the clip you see below — the dark bands come when Pluto’s methane ice absorbs those materials. And when researchers plug the results into visible color channels, the result is the almost festive mix of red and green (with hints of blue) that you see above.

These images aren’t just meant as art, of course. Infrared scans were crucial to confirming the presence of water ice on Pluto, and further research using this data should help understand how both Pluto and its main moon Charon have evolved over time. You may well have to rethink your perception of the Solar System thanks to these pretty pictures.

Source: NASA (1), (2)

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