Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2006 September 3
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Pluto in True Color
Credit: Eliot Young (SwRI) et al., NASA

Explanation: Pluto is mostly brown. The above picture captures the true colors of Pluto as well as the highest surface resolution so far recovered. Although no spacecraft has yet visited this distant world, the New Horizons spacecraft launched early this year is expected to reach Pluto in 2015. Pluto recent reclassification, by the International Astronomical Union, from planet to dwarf planet remains a topic of much debate. The above map was created by tracking brightness changes from Earth of Pluto during times when it was being partially eclipsed by its moon Charon. The map therefore shows the hemisphere of Pluto that faces Charon. Pluto's brown color is thought dominated by frozen methane deposits metamorphosed by faint but energetic sunlight. The dark band below Pluto's equator is seen to have rather complex coloring, however, indicating that some unknown mechanisms may have affected Pluto's surface.

Tomorrow's picture: magellan red

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