Seeker Archives

Pluto, Enhanced: Photo Reveals Dwarf Planet's Complexity

See Pluto's composition and complex textures in this new 'enhanced' observation of the dwarf planet.

Scientists are preparing to release a new batch of pictures and results from New Horizons' survey of Pluto last week, but here's some eye-candy to tide us over: a color-enhanced view of Pluto that highlights the composition and texture of the planet's surface.

PHOTOS: NASA's Mission to Pluto by the Numbers

The bright region inside Pluto's "heart" -- dubbed Sputnik Planum -- is believed to be ices. The two bluish-white lobes that extend southwest and northeast of the heart shaped area may represent "exotic ices being transported away," from Sputnik Planum, NASA said.

The colorized view of Pluto is the combination of four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera, and color data from the Ralph instrument. The pictures were taken when New Horizons was 280,000 miles away from Pluto. Features as small as 1.4 miles are visible from that distance.

Related Pluto news:

New Horizons Reveals a Psychedelic Pluto and Charon Pluto and Charon Dazzle in New Horizons Portrait Second Mountain Range Rises From the Heart of Pluto Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

After nine years sailing through space, New Horizons sailed past Pluto on July 14, dazzling the world with stunning high-resolution images of the dwarf planet and its moons. But what's next? There's some hope that New Horizons

will go past a Kuiper Belt object in 2019

, but that seems a long time to wait for the next big spacecraft encounter. Luckily, there are spacecraft getting ready to zoom all over the solar system.

Click through this slideshow to get a preview of strange new worlds, and places that are going to get another close-up.

MORE: Pluto has Ice Mountains, Charon is Active: New Horizons

Image: Artist's impression of New Horizons getting close to Pluto (center) and its moon Charon.

Next year, we're heading back to Jupiter! About two decades after Galileo explored the solar system's biggest planet, NASA's Juno spacecraft is expected to arrive there on July 4, 2016. Just recently, NASA

approved some changes

to the flight plan that will allow for better maps of Jupiter's gravity and magnetic fields. As a bonus, it will also lengthen Juno's prime mission to 20 months (instead of 15), but the same amount of science is expected to be accomplished.

MORE: Juno's Epic Flyby View of the Earth and Moon: Video

Image: Artist's impression of Juno at Jupiter.

For those missing regular updates from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, the European Space Agency plans to head back there starting with a launch in early 2017. BepiColombo will use an electric propulsion system that requires eight planetary flybys past Earth, Venus and Mercury itself. Its first gravity assist from Mercury will be in 2020, and then it will settle into its mission there in 2024. In May, BepiColombo's

announced 2016 launch date

was delayed due to timing issues with payloads and some "critical units", ESA said.

MORE: MESSENGER's Last Mercury Photo Before Crashing is Crazy Close-Up

Image: Artist's impression of BepiColombo at Mercury.

If all goes to plan, this Japanese spacecraft will get a second shot at entering Venus' orbit in late 2015. Akatsuki was supposed to maneuver in there in 2010, but the spacecraft's engines only fired for a short while, keeping Akatsuki on its current orbit around the sun. In February, JAXA (the Japanese space agency) published an update saying all is on track so far for

its close encounter next year

. It's lucky timing given that the European Space Agency's Venus Express finished its mission a few months ago.

MORE: Explainer: Venus Volcanoes May Be Alive After All

Image: Artist's impression of Akatsuki at Venus.

After sending several rovers to Mars in recent years, NASA is deciding to drill into the planet's surface with a stationary lander to learn more about the interior. This new mission, called InSight, is set to depart Earth next March for a landing in September. Riding along with it will be tiny hitchhikers;

the CubeSats will be the first to fly beyond Earth

, if all goes to plan.

MORE: NASA Begins Tests on Next Awesome Mars Lander: InSight

Image: Artist's impression of InSight at Mars.

And if NASA's mission isn't enough for you, the European Space Agency

is also planning a Mars mission

starting January 2016 with a different twist. From orbit (where it will arrive in October), the main spacecraft will observe trace gases (gases of small amounts) in the atmosphere, and it will also deploy a test landing demonstrator module. Part of ExoMars 2016's role will be to prepare for a rover landing -- Europe's first -- in 2018.

MORE: Possible Landing Sites Selected for Europe's ExoMars

Image: Artist's impression of the parts of the ExoMars 2016 mission

.

While other spacecraft are checking out planets, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft aims to get up close to a chunk of leftover solar system material. Japan's machine will not only orbit 1999 JU3 but also do a bunch of surface exploration. It will send a small impactor to the surface to excavate what's underneath, then swoop down to scoop up the material. The mission

also includes a lander and three (three!) "rovers"

that can bounce around on the surface. It will arrive at its destination in 2018.

MORE: Violent History Preserved in Hayabusa's Asteroid Grains

Image: Artist's impression of Hayabusa2.