As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto, it recorded spectacular images of the icy world’s surface using its LORRI and MVIC cameras. Now, researchers are getting a “movie” of this historic flyby in color-sort of.
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.
Maxine J. Martin