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Pluto – a world of wonder

On Wednesday evening the NEW HORIZONS team – knowing full well just how excited everyone gets at the end of the week now, when new images of Pluto are due to be released – posted this not very cryptic message on Twitter…

tweet Sept 23

How cruel was that??! 🙂  So of course many of us spent a good deal of time yesterday afternoon with the NEW HORIZONS website open in our browsers, and kept refreshing it, over and over, desperate to see what all the fuss was about. The hours dragged, and by mid-evening still nothing had been released, and I was starting to wonder if they had been stringing us along, and were just going to post a single image ahead of a proper data release today (Friday). On Twitter and Facebook the community of “Pluto Watchers” waited impatiently, hungry for more pictures, swapping speculation about what we might be about to be shown –

And then the first image hit the net…


The surface of Pluto… in exquisite detail… and in colour…

You can imagine the reaction, I’m sure. The NEW HORIZONS team was showing us that Pluto is a genuinely beautiful planet, with fascinating land-forms and features painted in countless subtle shades and hues.

But that wasn’t what the hype had been about. That image, as fascinating as it was, was just the curtain raiser, the warm up act for the star of the show – ridiculously detailed, high resolution, 65Mb colour portrait of the whole planet. Now, obviously I’m not going to embed a 65Mb image in this post! Here’s the link to it…

Pluto disc

I opened up that image and literally could not speak for a good couple of minutes. Scrolling around it, moving left and right, up and down, was hypnotising; it felt like I was like flying over Pluto in a glider, looking down on its craters, cliffs and glaciers – strangely familiar now, but, remember, completely unknown to us just a month or so ago – and seeing them in all their spectacular geological glory…

And, of course, some areas, some specific features, some swathes of the landscape, really stood out and all but dropped to their knees and begged to be highlighted. So, that’s what I did – I spent a good chunk of the evening cropping parts of the portrait and bringing out features that called to me.

I need to make something clear before going any further. The pictures I made, which follow below, are not meant to be scientifically accurate, or even useful; they are just meant to be what are often dismissed as “pretty pictures”. Here’s an example of the difference between the original image and what comes out after I’ve finished torturing it…

collage comp

,So, what I do is work with the images in various image processing programs to enhance colours, bring out hard to see detail and things like that, all to (hopefully) create something that looks striking and pleasing. You might not think they are. You might think they’re too dark, or there’s too much contrast, or their colours are too strong – well, fine. Whatever. As is the case with my processed images of Comet 67P, these are just my personal “takes” on Pluto, which will not add to our scientific knowledge in any way but just might, hopefully, show people what a beautiful world it is. And if that idea confuses you, or if you don’t think the images I’ve made are of any use or interest to you, well, that’s ok, you are of course free to make your own images the way you want them. 🙂

Right, now that’s out of the way, here are the pictures, click to enlarge them…






d3b grey










Look at those views… There are places where cracks and fractures slice through craters and cut through mountain ranges; huge areas with bizarrely coloured ledges and scarps; plains of blue-pink ice, rippled and dappled by unknown, possibly unknowable processes, and more. This is a world that will enthrall, baffle and infuriate planetary scientists for years, possibly generations to come – and thanks to the generosity and joy in the hearts of the NEW HORIZONS team we are all seeing it unfold before our eyes.

And again – and you knew this was coming, I’m sure – this is a slap across the face stark contrast to the continuing ridiculous behaviour of the ROSETTA OSIRIS team, which just refuses to release its images. While they just sit on their pictures, claiming they can’t release them because someone might use them to beat them to scientific discoveries, the NEW HORIZONS team seems to have no concern about that, and is delighted to share their images with the world, and to actually work day and night to create these stunning images specifically *for* the public and the media to use and enjoy. That’s a huge and very telling difference. I think it’s wonderful the NEW HORIZONS team is taking this attitude, has such an obvious joy in their achievements, and is so keen to share those achievements, through their images, with us – and even enjoys teasing us about them like they did on Thursday! But, after the incredible work of the ROSETTA outreach team to get the mission such a high media and public profile, the OSIRIS team has managed, incredibly, to totally disengage from both the media and the public. If it wasn’t for the fantastic images being released by the NAVCAM team, and the efforts to promote them by the Outreach team, no-one would know ROSETTA was still studying the comet.

collage xmas osiris

As a lifelong space enthusiast, a supporter of NASA and a dedicated Outreacher, I am extremely grateful to Alan Stern and the rest of the NEW HORIZONS team for letting me, and countless thousands of people like me, join them on their adventure. But I have to say that, as a European, and a supporter of the ROSETTA mission and ESA as a whole, I am deeply embarrassed by, and deeply ashamed of, the OSIRIS team and their attitude.

More Pluto images are due to be released today, so check back soon to see them.