Two very different faces of Pluto have been revealed in the newest color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. One side of the dwarf planet has a series of evenly spaced spots along the equator. Each spot is about 300 miles in diameter, with a surface area that’s about the size of the state of Missouri.
The presence of the dark spots intrigues the New Horizons science team, because of the consistency in their spacing and size. Origin and nature of the spots is a mystery for now, but the answer could be revealed as the spacecraft continues its approach to the mysterious dwarf planet.
“It’s a real puzzle—we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. “Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colors and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and grayer moon Charon.”
To produce these aimges, New Horizons team members blended black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with lower-resolution color data from the Ralph instrument .
The result is the planet and its largest moon in seen in approximately true color, that is, the way they would appear if you were riding on the New Horizons spacecraft. About half of Pluto is imaged, which means features shown near the bottom of the dwarf planet are at approximately at the equatorial line.