NASA Announcement – Pluto Has Frozen Surface Water and Blue Skies

Just 10 days after confirming that liquid water has been found on Mars, the US space agency revealed the amazing dwarf-planet has both ice and a ‘gorgeous’ blue sky.

A Nasa spokesman said: “New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto.

 Pluto Has Frozen Water and Blue Skies

“The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons.”

Pluto’s Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes
Pluto’s Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes

There has been repeated speculation Pluto may have a liquid sea under its surface, and confirmation of water ice on the surface adds to this theory.

The colour pictures show for the first time that the hazes are a bright blue. “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, in a statement.

The blue in the picture allows scientists to judge how exactly it is made.

“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.”

Nasa also said that it had found small, exposed regions of ice on the dwarf planet. Those bits of ice correlate with previously seen red patches on the surface — and scientists aren’t sure why. 

“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.”

The water only appears in patches. Scientists are planning to explore why exactly those patches form, and why they appear where they do.

“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.”

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