On July 14, this unprecedented image forever changed our view of Pluto. But New Horizons did not beam this photo to Earth as you see it here. It arrived unassembled: rough, lossy, colorless. Revealing Pluto’s true face would require some effort, and a specialized team of scientists with an... unconventional name.

At Science, Eric Hand recounts the dramatic story of how this now-iconic image of Pluto came to be, and how it was nearly lost:

They called themselves the Union of Amalgamated Pluto Colourists, a half-joking name for a collective with American, British, and Canadian roots. Two of them, Simon Porter and Tod Lauer, would polish the raw black and white images. Another two, Carly Howett and Alex Parker, would overlay color information. John Spencer, a senior scientist on the mission, was to oversee the effort. All were excited, running on little sleep, and fully aware of the image’s viral potential. They had been instructed not to email the image around—thus the thumb drives—or to even talk about it. The usual data pipeline—a set of servers at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado—had been shut down to limit access to the files. “There was a lot of sensitivity about this image,” Howett says. “We understood as a team why that was.”

This is some great science writing about an event that could easily have been lost to history. Do read the entire story for yourself over at Science.


Contact the author at rtgonzalez@io9.com.