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article imageHubble takes first pics of Pluto’s surface

By Paul Wallis     Feb 6, 2010 in Science
Pluto is cute. It’s an elegant little gold and black ball, and even if it’s no longer called a planet, I’d like to adopt it. Hubble took four years to put these pictures together, and they’re fuzzy but intriguing.
This is a truly alien looking world, with an inexplicable aesthetic. It looks like some of the old pics of Mars, with totally different implications for viewers. NASA's pretty bubbly about the pictures and the science. The gold and black effect is considered by NASA to be the result of atmospheric residues and nitrogen ice. It’s the shapes of the gold areas which are truly fascinating. Space addicts will know that these features are hard to take your eyes off.
Even better, these features move. The gold areas redden over time. Pluto is now known to be a highly active world, with its version of seasons and thermal effects. Pluto may have earned itself an important place in future space exploration as a world to study these ultra cold worlds and the very different physical processes involved.
The inner planets don’t have anything like this sort of morphology and physics, and the gas giants have a menagerie of variable moons, not a relatively stable planetary environment. Pluto was at one stage thought to be an escaped moon, and if so, the contrast could be very informative, helping to pin down the real effects of the big planets.
Until now, Pluto was a featureless blob, and its most recent news was the insulting removal of status as a planet, devaluing the hard work it took to find the thing. Now, in a few pictures, it’s getting its revenge. It’ll take centuries to study it properly. Interestingly, NASA says the Hubble pics will allow evaluation of earlier Pluto data.
Now the good news- the New Horizons probe will be able to image the surface when it flies by Pluto in 2015, and these pics will help identify areas to survey.
More about Pluto, Hubble, NASA
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