NASA announced on Thursday that Pluto, the most distant planet from the Sun in our solar system, has blue skies and patches of frozen water.
The New Horizons craft has sent back colour images of the haze that surrounds the planet for the first time
Senior planetary scientist Dr Alan Stern said “Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It’s gorgeous”
Press TV reports:
Pluto is located in the far-away Kuiper Belt, a freezing region of the solar system beyond planet Neptune that is home to many comets and asteroids. The planet has never been observed so closely in such detail.
Blue skies are seen on Earth because of the reflection of sunlight by very small particles of nitrogen.
“On Pluto they appear to be larger — but still relatively small — soot-like particles we call tholins,” science team researcher Carly Howett said.
NASA said that the “second significant finding” from New Horizons’ latest trove of data is that there are numerous regions of frozen water on Pluto.
“Large expanses of Pluto don’t show exposed water ice,” said Jason Cook of SwRI, another science team member, adding, “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,” Cook stated.
Areas that seem to contain the most ice appear bright red in recent color images of Pluto, just like the first color picture of the dwarf planet showed it is red.
“I’m surprised that this water ice is so red,” said Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park, adding, “We don’t yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto’s surface.”
The nuclear-powered spacecraft, which is bout the size of a baby grand piano, became the first spaceship to pass by Pluto on July 14. The probe will continue to send data back to Earth until late next year.