Pluto may have a lot more water ice on its surface, according to a new analysis of the data collected during the July flyby of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.
The new false-colour images of Pluto were released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Thursday (Jan. 28). They reveal a lot more water ice all over the surface of the dwarf planet than previously thought, according to scientists.
On July 14, the New Horizons spacecraft scanned the dwarf planet twice, looking for features of water ice. The shots were taken from a distance of about 67,000 miles (107,826 kilometres). All the infrared observations were then put together to form the image of Pluto. The areas where water ice appeared were highlighted.
The full extent of the water ice could not be seen on the initial model due to the more volatile ices that were situated on top of the water ice. The map only showed the areas where the water ice was greater than the methane ice – methane ice is especially known for masking the signals from water ice, experts say – or in places where there was not as much methane ice.
For the new image released by NASA, scientists used a more sensitive method, in which they included all the other types of ices on the surface of Pluto, before looking specifically for water ice.
On Pluto’s surface, water ice is like a type of crustal ‘bedrock.’ The other ices – such as, nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide – change each season on top of the water ice crust, because they are more volatile.
Scientists at NASA did not find much water ice on the Sputnik Planum, a wide, smooth plain that lies mostly in the northern hemisphere and is about 652 by 497 miles (1050 by 800 km) in size; not much water was found in the northern region called Lowell Regio as well. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, those regions are covered with other types of ice that may block the signature of water ice.
Some other moons in our Solar System have also sparked interest in the scientific community because they are thought to have liquid water. These include: Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Europa, and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which spews icy geysers that come from a salty ocean beneath the moon’s surface.
Image Source: space