Pluto Charon Pluto Charon Pluto and its moon, Charon. (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)

Gorgeous new spacecraft images reveal Pluto’s true colors

Scientists gathering for international space conference now have one more topic to discuss.

The child in me is squealing with glee, and the adult in me is writing an article about the child in me squealing with glee. That's how much Pluto-related news strikes at my core. But until now, no one has really been able to accurately depict what the planet looks like to, say, Plutonians.

But that all changed last week, when NASA's New Horizon satellite beamed down a variety of images of the dwarf planet back to our own planet. NASA released the images Thursday.

The big news: Pluto has a blue sky. It forms when the planet emits nitrogen. Once the nitrogen gets into the air, the sun’s ultraviolet rays ionize the nitrogen molecules, which combine into larger particles that look blue.

"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous," Alan Stern, the principal scientist for New Horizons, said in a statement.

All this comes right in time for the 66th International Astronautical Conference, which will begin in Israel on Monday. Buzz Aldrin will be the keynote speaker at the Jerusalem conference which will host thousands of participants. Perhaps the legendary astronaut will be able to tell us what seeing a celestial body for the first time is like.

plutoThe particles that make the sky blue are actually reddish, but they contribute to the planet's blue halo effect. (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)

Scientists also discovered ice patches on the planet. Mysteriously enough, the ice is red. The New Horizon’s team suspects the red water is connected to the particles in Pluto’s atmosphere that make its sky blue.

Pluto planetAn enhanced color global view of Pluto. (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)

And the clearest-ever photo of the planet's ground:

Pluto groundThis sharp photo reveals details down to scales of 270 meters. (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)

Some majestic mountains and rugged plains:

pluto's plains The spacecraft captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains. (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)

The literal edge of the night:

The Tartarus Dorsa mountainsThe Tartarus Dorsa mountains rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator, revealing intricate but puzzling patterns. (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)

So we're talking about a blue sky and red ice lakes, a scene so cool, it makes me want to don a cowboy hat and gallop out onto the galactic frontier, along with an appropriately named, trusty canine sidekick:

Pluto disney dogJust imagine the sky is blue and the ground is red. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube)


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