Do a Google search of Pluto, and the image results that pop up will reveal a small planet with a gentle blue-grey hue, a complexion many figured was due to its frigid makeup. But new data suggests the dwarf planet isn’t what you think.
For the past 85 years, Pluto has been a planetary enigma. First it was downgraded from a full-blown planet to a dwarf planet, and now scientists are discovering that it’s actually not blue at all. As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gets ready for its long-awaited flyby next week, new information confirms that the planet is actually red. Reddish brown, to be exact. But don’t call it Mars.
“On Mars the coloring agent is iron oxide, commonly known as rust,” NASA explained. “On the dwarf planet Pluto, the reddish color is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere and on its surface.”
Well, yeah, duh, of course.
Scientists have actually suspected Pluto to be a reddish color for decades, but New Horizons has only just confirmed their suspicions. The image you see above reflects what the dwarf planet would look like if you saw it with your own two eyes. But until we send humans to survey the lonely space rock, we’ll have to rely on New Horizons, which is closing in on a July 14 flyby.