About This Image
Release DateMarch 07, 1996 2:00PM (EST)
Read the Release1996-09
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The never-before-seen surface of the distant planet Pluto is resolved in these NASA Hubble Space Telescope pictures, taken with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Faint Object Camera (FOC) aboard Hubble.
Discovered in 1930, Pluto has always appeared as nothing more than a dot of light in even the largest earth-based telescopes because Pluto's disk is much smaller than can be resolved from beneath the Earth's turbulent atmosphere. Pluto is 2/3 the size of Earth's Moon but 1,200 times farther away. Viewing surface detail is as difficult as trying to read the printing on a golf ball located thirty-three miles away!
Hubble imaged nearly the entire surface of Pluto, as it rotated through its 6.4-day period, in late June and early July 1994. These images, which were made in blue light, show that Pluto is an unusually complex object, with more large-scale contrast than any planet, except Earth.
Pluto itself probably shows even more contrast and perhaps sharper boundaries between light and dark areas than is shown here, but Hubble's resolution (just like early telescopic views of Mars) tends to blur edges and blend together small features sitting inside larger ones.
The two smaller inset pictures at the top are actual images from Hubble. North is up. Each square pixel (picture element) is more than 100 miles across. At this resolution, Hubble discerns roughly 12 major "regions" where the surface is either bright or dark.
The larger images (bottom) are from a global map constructed through computer image processing performed on the Hubble data. The tile pattern is an artifact of the image enhancement technique.
Opposite hemispheres of Pluto are seen in these two views. Some of the variations across Pluto's surface may be caused by topographic features such as basins, or fresh impact craters. However, most of the surface features unveiled by Hubble, including the prominent northern polar cap, are likely produced by the complex distribution of frosts that migrate across Pluto's surface with its orbital and seasonal cycles and chemical byproducts deposited out of Pluto's nitrogen-methane atmosphere.
The picture was taken in blue light when Pluto was at a distance of 3 billion miles from Earth.
CreditsAlan Stern (Southwest Research Institute), Marc Buie (Lowell Observatory), NASA and ESA
|About The Object|
|About The Object|
|Object Name||A name or catalog number that astronomers use to identify an astronomical object.|
|Object Description||The type of astronomical object.|
|R.A. Position||Right ascension – analogous to longitude – is one component of an object's position.|
|Dec. Position||Declination – analogous to latitude – is one component of an object's position.|
|Constellation||One of 88 recognized regions of the celestial sphere in which the object appears.|
|Distance||The physical distance from Earth to the astronomical object. Distances within our solar system are usually measured in Astronomical Units (AU). Distances between stars are usually measured in light-years. Interstellar distances can also be measured in parsecs.|
|Dimensions||The physical size of the object or the apparent angle it subtends on the sky.|
|About The Data|
|Instrument||The science instrument used to produce the data.|
|Exposure Dates||The date(s) that the telescope made its observations and the total exposure time.|
|Filters||The camera filters that were used in the science observations.|
|About The Image|
|Image Credit||The primary individuals and institutions responsible for the content.|
|Publication Date||The date and time the release content became public.|
|Color Info||A brief description of the methods used to convert telescope data into the color image being presented.|
|Orientation||The rotation of the image on the sky with respect to the north pole of the celestial sphere.|