Open main menu

After Mars, NASA announces water ice on Pluto

Friday, October 9, 2015

The blue haze of Pluto.
Image: NASA.

NASA released yesterday the first coloured pictures of Pluto's blue atmosphere and water ice on the surface taken by the space probe New Horizons.

NASA said the haze particles may be grey or red in colour, but the scattering of light producing blue colour indicates the size of the particles. Smaller particles results in the scattering of the blue light. Scientists calls those soot like grey-red particles tholins.

The scientists suggest nitrogen and methane in the upper atmosphere, exposed to the Sun's ultraviolet radiation, break and combine to form more complex macromolecules similar to a process first observed on Titan, Saturn's satellite. Some of them grow to tholins. Eventually they are coated with volatile gas frost and fall to the surface, contributing to its red color.

Water ice on Pluto.
Image: NASA.

The data collected from the probe's Ralph spectral composition mapper shows several small zones of water ice on Pluto. Alex Parker from Southwest Research institute (SwRI) tweeted, "We expected water-ice to be there, but we've searched for water-ice in Pluto's spectrum for decades and not seen it before now".

"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?", New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of SwRI remarked; "It's gorgeous." "This world is alive [...] It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology."

The space probe has traveled over 100 million km (over 60 million miles) further since gathering the data on its Pluto flyby of July 14.

Related news

Sister links

Sources