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Pluto Silhouette Reveals Surprising Atmospheric Haze

Julia Zorthian

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July 27, 2015

NASA released stunning images on Friday of the dwarf planet's silhouette

Pluto Haze Eclipse New Horizons

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI Pluto sends a breathtaking farewell to New Horizons. Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s atmosphere rings its silhouette like a luminous halo in this image taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft around midnight EDT on July 15, 2015.

In this parting image, the New Horizons spacecraft captured a darkened Pluto backlit by the sun—illuminating the hydrocarbon haze circling the dwarf planet for the first time.

In addition to showing an elegantly beautiful silhouette, the NASA image indicates that haze layers extend for up to 80 miles above Pluto’s surface. Scientists had predicted much less atmospheric haze, and were surprised by how much the sunlight revealed, NASA said in a press release.

“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern in the press release. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries—it brings incredible beauty.”

The New Horizons probe took the photo with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), responsible for the historic photos of the dwarf planet. NASA released this image just hours after revealing a false color view of Pluto from New Horizons.