A Plutonian Haze by Michael Benson

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Stunning image of Pluto to debut at Otherworlds

A new colour image of Pluto will make its debut at the Museum's exhibition Otherworlds, opening Friday 22 January 2016. 

The image - titled A Plutonian Haze - was created by artist Michael Benson using data from NASA's New Horizons space probe.

It is the first image of Pluto to recreate what the dwarf planet's hazy blue atmosphere and irregular surface would look like to the human eye when lit from behind by the Sun.

Benson painstakingly processes data from NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) probes to produce his stunning composite photographs. Otherworlds will feature 77 of his images, selected to draw attention to the crucial role played by images of space in understanding our solar system.

'In the past 60 years, an audacious, utterly consequential story has unfolded,' he says.

'Combining rocket science with the innate human drive to explore, after millennia of speculation about the planets, the first expeditions to the solar system's far-flung worlds have taken place.

'Through the agency of a small squadron of increasingly sophisticated robotic spacecraft, we've seen Earth dwindle to the size of a pearl, and then a pixel, as we voyaged far beyond any place ever directly visited by human beings.'

Otherworlds will also feature original music from Brian Eno.

A good year for Pluto fans

A Plutonian Haze is the latest in a series of Pluto images released this year. NASA's New Horizons probe flew past the dwarf planet in July, and has since been beaming data across our solar system and back to Earth.

Images released by NASA in October showed for the first time that Pluto has a hazy blue atmosphere, which scientists think is caused by caused by clouds of soot-like 'haze particles' scattering sunlight.

The probe data also revealed small patches of exposed water ice on the surface of the dwarf planet.

Magnified view of exposed water ice on Pluto

A magnified view of Pluto, with the small regions of exposed water ice highlighted in blue. NASA's New Horizons probe collected the data during its July 2015 flyby. © NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


Professor Sara Russell, who heads the Museum's Mineral and Planetary Sciences Division, said at the time that it's no surprise image-led space projects have resulted in important discoveries about Pluto and the wider solar system.

'Much of planetary science is very visual. Remote-sensing missions provide global information about the composition of other planets.

'Here at the Museum we also look at planetary materials on a much smaller scale. This can complement the global picture by telling us how the materials formed,' she said.

  • By Liam Proud