[meteorite-list] Secrets Behind Pluto's Pastels Far From Being Answered
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 2015 21:28:35 -0700 (PDT)
Secrets behind Pluto's pastels far from being answered
by Stephen Clark
September 24, 2015
In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft,
rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus
Dorsa, rise up along Pluto's day-night terminator and show intricate
but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between.
This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red
and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera
(MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as
small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers). Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Geologists said Thursday they are bewildered by images from NASA's New
Horizons spacecraft baring unseen landscapes on Pluto with unexpected
"snakeskin" textures, colorful chasms routing through ancient landforms,
and vivid new views of apparent glacial flows.
One close-up of a set of aligned ridges near Pluto's day-night terminator,
which was at sunset when New Horizons encountered Pluto, has scientists
"It's a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of
miles," said William McKinnon, New Horizons' geology, geophysics and
imaging team deputy lead from Washington University in St. Louis. "It
looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This'll really
take time to figure out; maybe it's some combination of internal tectonic
forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto's faint sunlight."
The latest images released Thursday add high-resolution color to the black
and white pictures previously downlinked from New Horizons, which swept
past Pluto on July 14 to give humans their first up close views of the
Scientists used data from a the MVIC color camera inside the probe's
Ralph instrument to create a global view of Pluto. Information collected
through the camera's blue, red and infrared filters show variations
in Pluto's complex terrains, and scrolling across the 6.4 million pixel
image reveals countless distinct features - craters, channels and vast
ice fields - each with their own convoluted history.
"This image consumed the better part of this week for me," tweeted
Alex Parker, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.
"I removed striping noise and deconvolved the images, massively improving
NASAs New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced
color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and
infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera
(MVIC). Credit: Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
The colors are stretched and do not represent what the human eye would
see, but scientists say they are useful to bring out different types of
terrain dotting Pluto.
"We used MVIC's infrared channel to extend our spectral view of Pluto,"
said John Spencer, a geology, geophysics and imaging team deputy lead
from SWRI in Boulder, Colorado. "Pluto's surface colors were enhanced
in this view to reveal subtle details in a rainbow of pale blues, yellows,
oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors,
telling a wonderfully complex geological and climatological story that
we have only just begun to decode."
Scientists likened the Pluto's spectacular colors to a "red velvet
cupcake with cream cheese frosting."
You can view the nearly 70-megabyte image in full resolution on NASA's website.
"Click that link," Parker posted to his Twitter account. "Zoom in.
This image is unlike anything you have ever seen."
NASA also released the sharpest views yet of Pluto from New Horizons'
telescopic LORRI camera, which takes pictures in black and white.
"These images - the highest-resolution yet available of Pluto -
reveal features that resemble dunes, the older shoreline of a shrinking
glacial ice lake, and fractured, angular water ice mountains with sheer
cliffs," NASA said in a press release. "Color details have been added
using MVIC's global map shown above."
High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft
just before closest approach on July 14, 2015, reveal features as small
as 270 yards (250 meters) across, from craters to faulted mountain blocks,
to the textured surface of the vast basin informally called Sputnik Planum.
Enhanced color has been added from the global color image. This image
is about 330 miles (530 kilometers) across. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Parker said combining data from the black and white LORRI imager and MVIC
color camera was painstaking because the images were taken from different
"This means going in by hand, determining the size, shape, height, and
features of each mountain, and stretching and warping them to match,"
he said on Twitter. "My eyes hurt, but I think the result paid off."
Scientists said the closer look at Sputnik Planum, a giant ice field the
size of Texas, shows it is covered in previously unresolved pits and bumpy
terrain. The textures could be dunes of ice particles.
Newly-downlinked data from New Horizons may have moved scientists closer
to answering what makes up the icy plains of Sputnik Planum, which makes
up the western lobe of a bright heart-shaped feature spotted by the probe
on approach to Pluto.
An infrared spectrometer aboard New Horizons mapped concentrations of
methane on the dwarf planet, and the results show an uneven distribution.
Sputnik Planum appears to be rich in methane, while darker, older material
to the southwest in an area informally named Cthulhu Regio has relatively
Matching the methane data with the global map of Pluto shows more methane
in regions appearing brighter in color imagery, but scientists are not
sure how the results are correlated.
"It's like the classic chicken-or-egg problem," said Will Grundy,
New Horizons surface composition team lead from Lowell Observatory in
Flagstaff, Arizona. "We're unsure why this is so, but the cool thing
is that New Horizons has the ability to make exquisite compositional maps
across the surface of Pluto, and that'll be crucial to resolving how
enigmatic Pluto works."
Researchers expect all of the Pluto flyby data to be on the ground in
late 2016 - a limitation imposed by the spacecraft's 3 billion mile
distance from Earth. Only then will the New Horizons science team begin
to fully piece together how the distant world's climate and geology
Scientists will attempt to learn how Pluto changes with its 6.4-day rotation
and decades-long seasons as the dwarf planet circuits the sun every 248
"With these just-downlinked images and maps, we've turned a new page
in the study of Pluto beginning to reveal the planet at high resolution
in both color and composition," said Alan Stern, New Horizons' principal
investigator from the Southwest Research Institute. "I wish Pluto's
discoverer Clyde Tombaugh had lived to see this day."
Received on Fri 25 Sep 2015 12:28:35 AM PDT