Brand new colour images of Pluto have been released by NASA’s New Horizons, showing the dwarf planet to be spotty along the equator – a sight that has intrigued the team behind the mission.
Brought into view by data from the high-resolution black and white camera, LORRI, and the lower-resolution colour imager known as Ralph, each spot is around 500 kilometres (311 miles) across, meaning that they appear to be similar in size. What’s more, they are evenly spaced out, which adds to their mystery.
“It’s a real puzzle – we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” says New Horizon’s Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colours and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and greyer moon Charon.”
As New Horizons makes the last leg of its journey to the dwarf planet, the probe’s team will start to look for further details on Pluto’s surface – more specifically clouds, which will reveal more information about the mysterious world. “We’re looking for clouds in our images using a number of techniques,” says the Southwest Research Institute’s Kelsi Singer. “If we find clouds, their presence will allow us to track the speeds and directions of Pluto’s winds.”
New Horizons will reach Pluto and its five moons on 14 July at around 11:49 GMT, where the probe will be around 12,500 kilometres (7,767 miles) above the dwarf planet’s surface.
Check out our sister magazine How It Works‘ video to find out more about the New Horizon mission.