Pluto gets into the Christmas spirit with new NASA photo

Pluto Gets Into The Christmas Spirit
Pluto Gets Into The Christmas Spirit

It's even Christmas on Pluto.

The little dwarf planet on the outer reaches of our solar system is getting decked out for the holiday in green and red.

The new image was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015, at 9:40 a.m. ET when the probe was about 67,000 miles from Pluto. (And just to be totally clear, Pluto doesn't actually look like this. NASA produced this false color image to celebrate the season by assigning certain infrared wavelength ranges to red and green.)

SEE ALSO: The best photos taken from space in 2015

NASA also managed to make Christmas nerdy with a Pluto-themed song best sung to the tune of "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (The song has some pretty choice lines like "Pluto the small dwarf planet/Has a very shiny glow/And if you had discovered it/Your name might be Clyde Tombaugh," so check it out on NASA's Tumblr.)

The instrument used to make this red and green image is also responsible for creating a beautiful "stained glass" video of Pluto as seen by New Horizons during its closest approach on July 14, when the craft flew about 7,700 miles from the surface of the dwarf planet.

"This is what you would have actually seen if you were on board the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, looking out at Pluto through a stained glass window with infrared eyes," Alex Parker, a planetary scientist working with the New Horizons mission, said in ablog post about the video.

Scientists use images like the red and green Christmas shot and the video to learn more about the composition of the dwarf planet. Researchers can use data like this to pick out differences between the types of molecules that compose various areas of Pluto's surface.

For instance, the data used to make this stained glass movie helped scientists figure out thatPluto has water-ice, Parker said.

But beyond that, it's just incredibly cool to imagine flying past Pluto more than 3 billion miles from Earth, taking in the view of a world humanity has never visited before.

"Just take a moment and imagine you were on board our little robotic emissary to the farthest worlds ever explored, watching Pluto come into view through a colorful window on the side of the spacecraft," Parker added.

New Horizons is continuing its journey deep into the solar system now. If NASA funds an extended mission for the spacecraft, it will arrive at another small world in 2019 after traveling 1 billion miles from Pluto.

Until then, New Horizons will continue to beam back the wealth of data it collected about Pluto and its five moons during the close approach, taking about one year to send all that information back to Earth.

See more images of Pluto:

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