The Non-Spherical Shape of Pluto May Help Restore its Planetary Status

Telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on May 29-June 2 captured images showing Pluto to be a multifaceted world with areas of intermediate brightness in between and ultra bright and ultra dark terrain. The captured images are the best views ever obtained of Pluto’s planetary system.

A technique called deconvolution was used by New Horizons scientists to sharpen the raw, unprocessed pictures the spacecraft transmits back to Earth.  The latest image’s contrast were magnified to reveal additional details. Deconvolution sporadically produce artifacts, so the team will review newer images taken at close range to conclude whether the tantalizing detail seen in the latest released images still persist. Pluto’s non-spherical form in these images is not real; it resulted from the combined image-processing procedure and Pluto’s large disparities in surface brightness.

Deconvolved images from New Horizons allowed the science team to recognize a variety of broad surface markings throughout Pluto, since April, including a bright area located on one pole which scientists consider to be a polar cap.

Alan Stern, a New Horizons Principal Investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, said the latest images show a complex surface with evidence of discrete equatorial bright and dark regions, that may have variations in brightness. “ We can also see that every face of Pluto is different and that Pluto’s northern hemisphere displays substantial dark terrains, though both Pluto’s darkest and its brightest known terrain units are just south of, or on, its equator. Why this is so is an emerging puzzle.”

Hal Weaver, the New Horizons Project Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland said they are seeing details never seen before.  “We’ve seen evidence of light and dark spots in Hubble Space Telescope images and in previous New Horizons pictures, but these new images indicate an increasingly complex and nuanced surface.”  Before adding that “Now, we want to start to learn more about what these various surface units might be and what’s causing them. By early July we will have spectroscopic data to help pinpoint that.”



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