Scientists amazed at diversity of Pluto's colours

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By Chris Harris  with AFP
Scientists amazed at diversity of Pluto's colours

Pluto has a diverse surface with a rich variety of colours, according to a new study.

The paper, published in Science magazine, is the first on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft’s flyby of the dwarf planet.

Previously, experts did not have a clear picture of Pluto’s colours.

“I was astonished to see such spectacular surface color and geological diversity,” said Silvia Protopapa, an assistant research scientist in astronomy at the University of Maryland and part of the New Horizons surface composition team.

The study includes a new colour image of Pluto, a mosaic produced by the spacecraft’s LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera.

It gives an indication of the variety of the planet’s surface, moving from a dark, cratered region informally named Cthulhu Range to the bright and smooth expanse of ice plains referred to as Sputnik Planum.

In July, New Horizons became the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto, offering an unprecedented view of the planet.

Scientists working on the project have already released most of their observations to the public, but data will continue to pour in for the next year.

“The data returned so far show a surprisingly wide variety of landforms and terrain ages on Pluto, as well as variations in colour, composition and albedo (surface reflectivity),” NASA said. “Team members also discovered evidence for a water-ice rich crust, multiple haze layers above the surface in Pluto’s atmosphere, and that Pluto is somewhat larger and a bit more ice rich than expected.”