A year after ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission got into orbit around the red planet, on September 24, 2014, the space agency published a compilation of images it has snapped, with short text notes, as a PDF. But less than 24 hours later, the compilation’s pride of place was invaded by a stunning new image of Pluto released by the team operating the New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past the dwarf planet on July 14, 2015. Here’s a screenshot.
… and here’s the link to the 68-MB version. Take the trouble to load all 16 million pixels and zoom in for: that’s the best view of Pluto humanity has had yet, and what a view it is. It wasn’t taken this way – two scientists worked a week to process the raw images and free them of colour- and spatial-distortions. Alex Parker, a planetary astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute, Texas, handled the visuals from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). An astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tod Lauer, went after outputs from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). The final version displayed above was arrived at after a mosaic of LORRI images were colourised with MVIC data, and what a labour of love it was. This is how Parker put it:
Parker also picked out a few of his favourite places from around this whole new world. Immediately evident are the dark-reds, streaky blues and gentle-golds, at times flowing and at others refracted over an assortment of surfaces, giving scientists a glimpse of the geochemical processes at work behind them. However, they’re still far from being understood and will continue weeks of data-processing and analysis.
Data obtained by New Horizons just on the day of its flyby will take until September next year to be transmitted to Earth, thanks to the feeble data transmitter on board as well as the probe’s distance: at the time of the flyby, it was about 4.8 billion km away. In the meantime, it is already on its way to its next target, an asteroid in the Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69. The belt itself is significant because it contains the icy remains of the proto-ingredients out of which the Solar System was born more than four billion years ago, and scientists think New Horizons could help expose some of their features. Parker was among those involved in nominating MU69. The rendezvous is set for January 1, 2019. Until then, NASA can bet we’ll be glued to whatever emerges from the Deep Space Network downlink.