What are the Strange Spots on These New Images of Pluto?

By Jamie Condliffe on at

New colour images acquired by NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft show us Pluto as we’ve never seen it before. Its surface appears to bear a series of giant spots, which scientists can not yet explain.

NASA researchers have identified a series of spots along the dwarf planet’s equator. Each one is about 300 miles across which, NASA points out, means they each cover an area about the same size as the US state of Missouri. But nobody knows what the are.

“It’s a real puzzle—we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” said Alan Stern, who works on the New Horizons project, in a press release. “Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colours and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and greyer moon Charon.”

What Are the Strange Spots on These Brand New Images of Pluto?

The pictures were created when the researchers combined two sets of images. They took black-and-white images of Pluto from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and added lower-resolution colour data from another instrument. The images are more-or-less true colour, which means that this is how you’d see Pluto if you were zooming towards it like New Horizons is.

While the spots are puzzling, NASA scientists should learn more about them as New Horizons gets closer to Pluto over the coming month. Let’s hope so. [NASA]