What is the Color of Pluto?

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The dwarf planet Pluto is so small and so far away that it took the precision lenses of the Hubble Space Telescope to reveal any details about its surface color. It turns out that Pluto's atmosphere is complex enough to display more than one color to viewers from afar.

Pluto is Mostly Yellowish-Brown

  • As of 2014, the best views we have of Pluto are those recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002 and 2003. They show the yellowish-brown typical of methane punctuated by white, green and charcoal bands. Astronomers theorize that the darker colors are the byproducts of ultraviolet degradation of methane.

A Dynamic World

  • Comparing pictures of Pluto in 2002 to those obtained in 1994, astronomers noticed that the northern hemisphere had grown brighter while the southern hemisphere had grown darker. Independent observations confirmed that the mass of the atmosphere had doubled from 1988 to 2002, suggesting a warming trend and the sublimation of surface ice. Moreover, astronomers have noted a bright spot rich in carbon monoxide frost. The New Horizons spacecraft should provide more visual details when it flies by in 2015.

References

  • Photo Credit Ian Forsyth/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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