NASA's New Horizons Finds Flowing Ice, Dazzling Atmospheric Haze on Pluto

Friday, 24 July 2015 - 2:40PM
Space
Astronomy
Solar System
Friday, 24 July 2015 - 2:40PM
NASA's New Horizons Finds Flowing Ice, Dazzling Atmospheric Haze on Pluto
NASA started off the day with the above false color photo of Pluto, which revealed the varied geology of Pluto's surface with more clarity. Now, the New Horizons mission has released a slew of new discoveries, and the dwarf planet is more exotic and exciting than anyone ever expected.

Opening quote
"We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now -- 10 days after closest approach -- we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed," said NASA's John Grunsfeld in a statement. "With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling."
Closing quote


First, NASA has discovered a layer of beautiful atmospheric haze surrounding Pluto, which can be clearly seen in this nighttime farewell photo of the former ninth planet during the closest flyby:



NASA scientists believe that the haze, which essentially shows us Pluto's weather for the first time, is created when ultraviolet sunlight breaks up methane gas particles in the atmosphere. Preliminary analysis shows that there are two distinct layers of haze: one 50 miles above the surface and one 30 miles above the surface. The above photo was taken just seven hours after New Horizons's closest approach, and shows sunlight streaming through these layers of atmosphere.

Opening quote
"My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. "It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries -- it brings incredible beauty."
Closing quote




Closer analysis of the surface also revealed that the Sputnik Planum, or the plain at the "heart of the heart," contains exotic flowing ices that move along Pluto's surface, which can be seen in more detail in this true-color image:

New Horizons Reveals Atmospheric Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

The Sputnik Planum shows signs of recent geologic activity, in which a sheet of ice has flowed across the surface like glaciers on Earth. NASA scientists believe that the ice may still be flowing, which means that Pluto may be a much more active planet than we thought.

Opening quote
"We've only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars," said mission co-investigator John Spencer. "I'm really smiling."
Closing quote


Watch NASA's simulated flyover of the active Sputnik Planum, as well as Pluto's newly discovered mountain range, which may be made of water ice:

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NASA's New Horizons Finds Flowing Ice, Atmospheric Haze on Pluto

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