Brilliant planetary halo: Behold, Pluto bathed in ring of resplendent light

The September image of Pluto's crescent beamed to Earth pales in comparison to the brilliant photo that showed up this week.

Courtesy of NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
The New Horizon's spacecraft captured this image just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, as the spacecraft looked back at Pluto toward the sun. While a blurry version of this shot arrived on Earth in September, the full, crisp view of Pluto's crescent did not arrive until late October.

A new high-resolution image from NASA shows what Pluto's crescent looks like in its entirety, and it’s beautiful.

NASA released an initial image of the tiny, distant former planet's crescent in September, but that photograph, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft during its journey past Pluto in June, was blurry and incomplete.

Courtesy of NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
This partial view of Pluto's crescent arrived on Earth on Sept. 13

Images from the historic flyby have been arriving on Earth in dribs and drabs for the past several months, and each one has been a "stunning reminder of how radically… years [of interstellar exploration] have changed humanity’s understanding of its cosmic neighborhood,” according to The Christian Science Monitor's Pete Spotts.

In other words, as we continue to explore the farthest reaches of our solar system, the more we learn not only about those distant planets, but also, perhaps, about their similarity to Earth.

The new photograph from NASA shows what Pluto looks like when the dwarf planet is illuminated by the sun. Although the sun is about three billion miles from Pluto, it still gives a transcendent glow to Pluto’s Sputnik Planum, an icy plane on Pluto’s lower right and considered part of Pluto’s “heart,” or the region south of Pluto’s equator that has a distinct heart shape.

It also showed blurry stars that moved out of focus as New Horizons positioned its camera to obtain a better view of Pluto, and reveals Pluto’s atmospheric layers  – comprised of nitrogen and other gases – in all their hazy and beautiful detail.

The newly better-focused image gave scientists at NASA enough understanding to see Pluto’s pitted terrain, and even name two of the craters that dance across its surface, one of which is filled with ammonia and the other with water. Perhaps in anticipation of the new “Star Wars” movie, NASA chose to name those craters Organa and Skywalker, after the science fiction series' Luke and Leia. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Brilliant planetary halo: Behold, Pluto bathed in ring of resplendent light
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today