Although NASA’ New Horizons will reach the dwarf planet only next month it has already offered insight into Pluto’s complex terrain. Images between May 29 and June 2 indicate that the planet is very complex, having both very dark and very bright terrains. In addition it also presents regions of intermediate brightness in between.
The photos were captured using LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) which was onboard the New Horizons spacecraft. It has offered the best pictures of Pluto which were ever recorded. The researchers involved in the New Horizons mission managed to improve the quality of the raw pictures taken by the spacecraft using a technique known as deconvolution. Moreover they have stretched the contrast of the photos in order to discover other important details.
Dr. Alan Stern from the Southwest research Institute in Colorado commented about Pluto’s complex terrain:
“We can also see that every face of Pluto is different and that Pluto’s northern hemisphere displays substantial dark terrains, though both Pluto’s darkest and its brightest known terrain units are just south of, or on, its equator. Why this is so is an emerging puzzle.”
These images were taken from more than 30 million miles away. New Horizons will reach Pluto net month after having spent 9.5 years on the road. As the spacecraft gets near to Pluto it will beam back more pictures to Earth and scientists will continue to carefully analyze them in order to confirm what they have already observed on the latest pictures.
The method of deconvolution was used by scientists in order to observe multiple surface markings on the dwarf planet ever since April. The deconvolved photos from the spacecraft include Pluto’s pole which has a bright area and scientists has assumes that it is the planet’s polar cap.
Using the Hubble Space Telescope the research team discovered the light and dark areas of Pluto’s complex terrain. This data combined with the images from the New Horizons indicate that Pluto’s surface is complicated and nuanced.
Dr. Hal Weaver from the Johns Hopkins University said that they are trying to obtain as much information as they can from the images they have and observe details which remained unnoticed before. With the new information about Pluto’s complex terrain scientists hope to find out more about what the different surface units might be and what their cause is. Dr. Weave estimates that they will have enough spectroscopic data about this phenomenon by July.