NASA's New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

Thursday, 30 April 2015 - 1:40PM
Space
Astronomy
Space Imagery
Thursday, 30 April 2015 - 1:40PM
NASA's New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto
New Horizons won't make its historic rendezvous with Pluto until July, but it's already making discoveries about the heretofore mysterious dwarf planet. In the most recent pictures from NASA, New Horizons detected many different planetary features, including a possible polar ice cap.

NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



Although Pluto still looks small and blurry in these images, which were taken by New Horizons between April 12 and April 18 from between 69 and 64 million miles away, the pictures are actually quite revealing. The images captured one complete rotation of the Pluto/Charon system, and they showed that there is a consistently changing brightness when Pluto rotates, indicating that there are bright and dark patches on the surface. But most significantly of all, the pictures may reveal a newly discovered polar ice cap.

"Because Pluto is tipped on its side (like Uranus), when observing Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft, one primarily sees one pole of Pluto, which appears to be brighter than the rest of the disk in all the images," NASA wrote in a statement. Scientists suggest this brightening in Pluto's polar region might be caused by a 'cap' of highly reflective snow on the surface. The 'snow' in this case is likely to be frozen molecular nitrogen ice."

This is just an educated guess at this juncture, but the hypothesis will either be confirmed or debunked when New Horizons reaches Pluto in July. 

NASA also released new pictures of Pluto's moon Ganymede from the New Horizons LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) instrument: 

NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]



NASA'S New Horizons Snaps Pictures of Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto

[Credit: NASA]

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Astronomy
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