PIA18179: Hubble Maps of Pluto Show Surface Changes

Hubble Maps of Pluto Show Surface Changes


The Changing Faces of Pluto
The Changing Faces of Pluto

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This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. NASA's New Horizons space probe, now halfway to Pluto, will get sharper images of Pluto when it is six months away from a close flyby in 2015.

Hubble's view isn't sharp enough to see craters or mountains, if they exist on the surface, but Hubble reveals a complex-looking and variegated world with white, dark-orange, and charcoal-black terrain. The overall color is believed to be a result of ultraviolet radiation from the distant Sun breaking up methane that is present on Pluto's surface, leaving behind a dark, molasses-colored, carbon-rich residue.

Pluto is so small and distant that the task of resolving the surface is as challenging as trying to see the markings on a soccer ball 40 miles away. The Hubble raw images are a few pixels wide. But through a technique called dithering, multiple, slightly offset pictures can be combined through computer-image processing to synthesize a higher-resolution view than could be seen in a single exposure. This series of pictures took four years and 20 computers operating continuously and simultaneously to accomplish.

Cataloging Keywords:

Name Value Additional Values
Target Pluto Sun
System Pluto
Target Type Dwarf Planet Sun
Mission Hubble Space Telescope (HST) New Horizons
Instrument Host Hubble Space Telescope (HST) New Horizons
Host Type Orbiting Telescope Flyby Spacecraft
Extra Keywords Color, Crater, Methane, Mountain, Movie, Ultraviolet
Acquisition Date
Release Date 2010-02-04
Date in Caption
Image Credit NASA/ESA/SRI (M. Buie)
Source photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18179
Identifier PIA18179