Stunning NASA image shows Pluto's atmosphere

NASA has released an incredible image of the haze layers in Pluto’s atmosphere taken by the New Horizons spacecraft.

The processed image is the highest-resolution color look yet at the haze layers, according to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which engineered New Horizons with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). The image, which was acquired on July 14, 2015, was taken by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), “splashed” with Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) four-color filter data.

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The image resolution is 0.6 miles per pixel, with the sun illuminating the scene from the right.

“Scientists believe the haze is a photochemical smog resulting from the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules in Pluto’s atmosphere, producing a complex mixture of hydrocarbons such as acetylene and ethylene,” explained the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in a statement. “These hydrocarbons accumulate into small particles, a fraction of a micrometer in size, and scatter sunlight to make the bright blue haze seen in this image.”

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The haze layers extend to altitudes of over 120 miles.

NASA released the first images from New Horizons’ historic Pluto flyby in July. The spacecraft began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the Labor Day weekend.