North on Pluto is toward the right in this image, which is oriented as the spacecraft captured it during its historic flyby on July 14. (Which makes more sense if you remember that Pluto's rotational axis is tilted almost 120 degrees.)
PHOTO: New Horizons Completes Pluto's Family Portrait
Because of the data gathered from this perspective on the night side scientists now know that Pluto's extended atmosphere consists of a complex haze that's divided into into over a dozen separate layers. These layers contain fine soot-like particles called tholins: organic compounds that eventually precipitate down onto Pluto's surface, staining it red.
While suspended in the atmosphere, though, the tholins scatter light from the sun to give Pluto a blue sky... at least during its prolonged sunsets and sunrises.
Having successfully completed its Pluto flyby, New Horizons is now speeding out into the Kuiper Belt and has already begun course adjustments to meet up with its next proposed target: a 20–30-mile (30–45 km) wide object called 2014 MU69. A billion miles beyond Pluto, New Horizons will-if the mission is indeed approved -fly past 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.
PHOTO: New Horizons Returns Photos of Hazy ‘Arctic' Pluto
See this and more science images from the New Horizons mission here.
New Horizons is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.
Source: New Horizons/JHUAPL