Check Out 11 Stunning Close-Up Images of Pluto Taken By NASA’s New Horizon Spacecraft

What a beauty.

Back in 2016, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made history after it flew past Pluto, our solar systems former planet, now a dwarf planet. During its flyby, the spacecraft not only measured, studied, and analyzed Pluto and its moons, but it turned its cameras towards the surface of the dwarf planet and snapped a series of mind-altering images. It managed to photograph not only Pluto, its surface, but also Pluto’s moons.

The images we received from Pluto and its moons have shown us what a big heart Pluto has.

Literally.

The New Horizons Pluto flyby revealed a plethora of unprecedented data about the dwarf planet. Among the plethora of revealing data, New Horizons demonstrate that this small frigid dwarf planet does not lack an atmosphere. Although small and hazy, it is nonetheless there, and scientists have confirmed its existence not only thanks to New Horizons Data, but also thanks to remote observations of the dwarf planet by NASA’s telescope on an airplane, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA.

As the New Horizons spacecraft passed Pluto, its instruments studied the atmosphere of the dwarf planet. Its blue hazy atmosphere is formed as surface ice vaporizes under distant sunlight. The dwarf planet’s atmosphere is mostly made out of nitrogen gas, although it also has traces of methane and carbon monoxide.

An infograph about dwarf planet Pluto. Shutterstock.
An infographic about dwarf planet Pluto. Shutterstock.

Researchers have revealed that haze particles form high up in Pluto’s atmosphere, more than 20 miles above the surface, where methane and other gases react to the faint sunlight that the dwarf planet receivers, before eventually making its way down to the surface in the form of rain.

The images snapped and sent back to Earth by the New Horizons spacecraft proved the existence of these particles, especially in this blue-tinted photograph of Pluto’s atmosphere.

A high-resolution image taken by the New Horizons spacecraft showing Pluto's thin atmosphere. Image Credit: New Horizons.
A high-resolution image taken by the New Horizons spacecraft showing Pluto’s thin atmosphere. Image Credit: New Horizons.
A view of Pluto's Moon Charon, captured by NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft. Image Credit: new Horizons.
A view of Pluto’s Moon Charon, captured by NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft. Image Credit: new Horizons.
Pluto's Big Heart in Color. This Image was taken on July 13, 2015 at a distance of 476,000 miles (768,000 Kilometers) from the surface. Shutterstock.
Pluto’s Big Heart in Color. This Image was taken on July 13, 2015 at a distance of 476,000 miles (768,000 Kilometers) from the surface. Shutterstock.
A close-up image of the dunes on Pluto's surface. Image Credit: New horizon's Spacecraft.
A close-up image of the dunes on Pluto’s surface. Image Credit: New horizon’s Spacecraft.
An image of haze layers above Pluto’s limb taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). Image Credit: New Horizons.
An image of haze layers above Pluto’s limb taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). Image Credit: New Horizons.
An image of the bladed terrain of Pluto’s informally named Tartarus Dorsa region, imaged by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. Image Credit: New Horizons.
A New Horizon image of Floating Hills on Pluto's Sputnik Planum. Image Credit: New Horizons.
A New Horizon image of Floating Hills on Pluto’s Sputnik Planum. Image Credit: New Horizons.
An image of Pluto’s Wright Mons in color. It shows of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. Image Credit: New Horizons.
An image of Pluto’s Wright Mons in color. It shows of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. Image Credit: New Horizons.
This is one of the sharpest image to date of Pluto’s weird landscape, revealed surface details to a scale of 270 meters. Image Credit: new Horizons.
An elevation map of Pluto's sunken heart. Seen in the image are angular blocks of water ice located along the western edge of the so-called Sputnik Planitium are seen "floating" in the bright deposits of much softer, denser solid nitrogen. Image Credit: New Horizon's Spacecraft.
An elevation map of Pluto’s sunken heart. Seen in the image are angular blocks of water ice located along the western edge of the so-called Sputnik Planitium are seen “floating” in the bright deposits of much softer, denser solid nitrogen. Image Credit: New Horizon’s Spacecraft.
Extensional faults (arrows) on the surface of Pluto indicate expansion of the dwarf planet’s icy crust, attributed to freezing of a subsurface ocean. (Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker).
Extensional faults (arrows) on the surface of Pluto indicate expansion of the dwarf planet’s icy crust, attributed to freezing of a subsurface ocean. (Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker).

Data gathered by SOFIA compliments New Horizon’s discoveries. According to NASA, the particles within Pluto’s atmosphere are extremely tiny, between 0.06-0.10 microns thick, or about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Because of their small size, the particles scatter blue light more than other colors as they make their ways down to the surface of the dwarf planet in the form of rain, creating a now-unique blue tint.

Understanding Puto’s atmosphere helps us understand its history in the solar system. With new insights gathered by SOFIA and New Horizons, forecasts suggested that as Pluto moved away from the Sun, less surface ice would be vaporized — creating fewer atmospheric gases while losses to space continued — ultimately driving atmospheric collapse. But instead of collapsing, the atmosphere appears to change on a shorter cyclical pattern.

Studying Pluto has helped us better understand the dwarf planet and other similar objects in our solar system. As Pluto makes its way around the sun, it does so in an extremely long, elliptical orbit and at an inclined robot. As it moves throughout the solar system, the dwarf planet rotates on its side. This causes certain areas of Pluto to be exposed more to sunlight than others, at different points in the orbit.

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