Pluto is red: New Horizons images throw out previous understanding of dwarf planet

Mars isn’t the only red (dwarf) planet, it turns out, and has a huge heart-shape carved into it

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The Independent Tech

Pluto is a completely different colour from the one we thought it was, according to new images that also show the huge heart that seems to be carved into its side.

The dwarf planet has long been depicted as a grey or blue colour. But new images received from the New Horizons probe, on its way to the planet, show that it is in fact a sandy red.

The pictures also show that Pluto has a huge heart shape going up almost half of its face. They also show a big dark patch at the bottom, which is known as “the whale”.

The image is the most detailed ever taken of Pluto. It was snapped on July 7, from about 5 million miles away, and is the first image to be sent back from the probe since a worrying glitch on July 4.

The pictures were snapped by the New Horizons probe as it makes its way towards Pluto, for a flyby that is scheduled to take place early next week. That will bring even more detailed images.

“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today,” Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement. “It will be incredible!”

Other images from earlier in the week showed the planet's reddish-brown colour in more detail than ever.

Though the planet is a similar colour to Mars, the two planet's colours come about for completely different reasons. Pluto's colour seems to come from the way that the sun's light interacts with certain molecules in its atmosphere, which generates the red compounds that then fall onto the surface.