It looks like Pluto might be more similar to Earth than we originally expected. At least, in some ways.
NASA’s first colour images of Pluto collected by its New Horizons probe reveal the dwarf planet is home to blue skies and water ice. Which means it’s not the atmosphere-less frozen rock you likely thought it was.
— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) October 8, 2015
The blueish hue is apparently caused by red and grey particles in Pluto’s atmosphere that scatter blue light. A similar effect occurs in Earth’s sky, according to the space agency. “Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It’s gorgeous,” Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement. On Earth, however, the particles are made up of tiny nitrogen molecules while the dwarf planet’s are made up of larger “soot-like particles” called tholins. We can assume the blue sky would look just a little different there than it would here as a result.
The interesting part about the water ice, meanwhile, is that researchers were finding it in areas that were marked bright red on the images. It’s unclear whether the water itself is red, or if the ice just so happened to settle on surfaces that were already that colour. “Large expanses of Pluto don’t show exposed water ice,” science team member Jason Cook said in a statement. “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.”
NASA is still processing the images taken by the New Horizons probe, which zipped past the dwarf planet on July 14. So we can expect many more interesting discoveries to come in the near future.
Still want more Pluto? Check out the videos below: