New Horizons finds blue skies and frozen water on Pluto.
Pluto does not at all look like Earth, but there is something on Pluto that is reminiscent of our planet. NASA announced the discovery of blue skies on Pluto.
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"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It’s gorgeous," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.
The haze particles themselves are likely gray or red, but the way they scatter blue light is similar like on Earth. “That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles,” said science team researcher Carly Howett, also of SwRI. “A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger — but still relatively small — soot-like particles we call tholins.”
Pluto’s haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto's blue halo is very pretty to look at. The discovery of blue skies does not mean Pluto has an atmosphere. There are just some particles that surround the dwarf planet.
That is not all NASA has discovered on Pluto. New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of frozen water on Pluto. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons.
“Large expanses of Pluto don’t show exposed water ice,” said science team member Jason Cook, of SwRI, “because it’s apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet. Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into.”
A curious aspect of the detection is that the areas showing the most obvious water ice spectral signatures correspond to areas that are bright red in recently released color images. “I’m surprised that this water ice is so red,” says Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park. “We don’t yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto's surface.”
Frozen water is already an old hat. NASA just discovered fluid water on Mars. New research also says that Mars had fresh water lakes a long time ago. The likelyhood of life on Mars has increased with these new findings.
The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally. There is still a ton of data that New Horizons is beaming down to Earth about NASA. These will not have been the last Pluto discoveries.
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