Pluto plastered in what looks like 1970s orange wallpaper – proof

First color snaps reveal retro-tastes of alien world

New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto
Plucky Pluto probe ... the New Horizons spacecraft

Pics The first color photos of Pluto and its moon Charon have been received from NASA's New Horizons probe. And the dwarf planet is beige-orange just like a bad 1970s kitchen.

"It's exciting to see Pluto and Charon in motion and in color," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). "Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colors – Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate."

The images were created using blue, red and near-infrared images of the two orbiting bodies taken using the seven charged-coupled devices (CCDs) built into the Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (named as Ralph after the spouse-threatening Mr Kramden in The Honeymooners.)

Getting color images of the dwarf planet and its five moons is going to be key to understanding their composition and history. Astronomers have already spotted that one of Pluto's five moons, Kerberos, is black, whereas the other moons are grey. There are some intriguing details about Pluto itself: there appears to be an ice cap on one pole and discoloration on the surface that may be volcanic in origin.

You spin me right round, baby, right round

Not a Sega Genesis screenshot ... A snap of Pluto, center, and its moon Charon from New Horizons

“Color observations are going to get much, much better, eventually resolving the surfaces of Charon and Pluto at scales of just kilometers,” said Cathy Olkin, New Horizons' deputy project scientist. “This will help us unravel the nature of their surfaces and the way volatiles transport around their surfaces. I can’t wait; it’s just a few weeks away.”

The probe is speeding towards on Pluto at 32,500 miles per hour and will reach its closest point on July 14 – getting within about 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometres) above the surface. NASA will be holding a special event for the flyby, but don't expect instant gratification – the immense distances involved mean New Horizons can only manage a one-kilobit-a-second connection. ®




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