A set of newly-released color photos of Pluto and its largest moon Charon show several gigantic spots on the dwarf planet equatorial region.
Each of the spots is 300-mile wide, which is about the length of Missouri, but scientists failed to provide an explanation on the mysterious huge blots.
The images were taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which currently races by more than 30,000 mile per hour towards an historic encounter with the tiny planet. New Horizons mission team acknowledged that they didn’t know what those spots were but they were eager to find out.
Another mystery that puzzled scientists was the color difference between Pluto and Charon. The planet’s moon is darker and greyer, while Pluto is kind of brownish. And we know that the methane and nitrogen ices may have to do something with it, but Charon’s status remains unknown.
The new set of color images were taken by New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), but they were edited by NASA scientists by blending them with other images taken by a different instrument called the Ralph instrument.
LORRI’s imagery was black-and-white. Researchers explained that the final product was mostly true color, and you won’t see a different hue if you were to observe the dwarf planet with a naked eye.
But the puzzle related to the mystery spots can be unlocked on July 14 when the spacecraft is slated to perform the first flyby of the remote planet. Yet, until then, NASA promised it would release clearer photos nearly each passing day.
Recently, NASA also gave New Horizons the green light to maintain current course. Mission engineers were concerned that certain orbits may contain hazardous debris which may collide with the spacecraft and render it inoperable.
But NASA scientists can’t wait to get the first images of Pluto’s methane clouds with help from LORRI and Ralph. The team explained that clouds can help them better understand the weather system and wind speeds on the dwarf planet.
Unfortunately, the new imagery doesn’t confirm the existence of smaller moons around the planet. Researchers have hoped that Pluto had more moons that previously theorized. They also hoped to find more dust rings around the planet.
Pluto has five moons – Kerberos, Charon, Styx, Nix and Hydra with Charon being the largest. Since Pluto was the name of the Roman god of the underworld, Kerberos was the name of the three headed nightmarish dog guarding the entrance to hell; Styx is the river the souls of the dead had to cross to get to their final resting place, while Charon is the boatman who ferried the souls to the other side. Nix is the goddess of night in Greek mythology, while Hydra was the serpent-like creature with many head Hercules had to kill during his Twelve Labors.
Image Source: Matiastanea.gr
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