NASA scientists have confirmed that New Horizons detected evidence of flowing ice and a strange, alien atmosphere on Pluto as it passed by the distant planet this July.
People have watched on as NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft made its approach of Pluto this summer. The probe has sent back a number of revealing photos and data about the mysterious exoplanet, and they just keep coming. According to a report from the Economic Times, the spacecraft’s most recent discovery reveals the presence of flowing ice and an extended haze surrounding the bizarre planet.
According to John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, scientists are in awe of the facts revealed about Pluto since New Horizons made its closest approach two weeks prior. The unique surface chemistry, flowing ice, mountain ranges, and mysterious haze have already presented researchers with years of new work.
Seven hours after its nearest approach, New Horizons turned back towards Pluto to take a photo with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). It captured the sunlight streaming through the small planet’s atmosphere, revealing a haze that hung as high as 130 km over the surface.
A basic analysis showed that the haze had two separate layers, one at about 80 km over the surface, and the other at an altitude of 50 km.
According to New Horizon’s co-investigator from George Mason University, Michael Summers, “The hazes detected in this image are a key element in creating the complex hydrocarbon compounds that give Pluto’s surface its reddish hue.”
The photos sent back by the probe also reveal evidence of strange ice flows on the planet’s surface, suggesting recent geologic activity. The details show a plane the size of Texas where a large sheet of ice may still be flowing in a manner similar to the glaciers on Earth.
The world will eagerly await for more data from New Horizons, wondering what else the mysterious planet has to reveal.