About seven hours after its closest flyby of Pluto, New Horizons turned LORRI back at Pluto, taking images of sunlight streaming through the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.
If you were standing on Pluto and looking up, you probably wouldn’t notice the haze, said George Mason University’s Michael Summers. The details show a plane as big as Texas with a large sheet of ice that may still be flowing in a manner not unlike the glaciers on Earth. According to a report from the Economic Times, the craft’s most recent discovery shows the presence of flowing ice and an extended atmospheric haze encasing the distant planet.
The hazes in the surface of the planet are also visible in one of the images.
“It’s very hard not to call an object with this level of complexity in its geology, and such complex seasons, a planet”, said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute, during a press conference about the Pluto probe’s latest update. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries – it brings incredible beauty”.
This image made available by NASA on Friday, July 24, 2015 shows Pluto made by combining several images from two cameras on the New Horizons spacecraft.
At one edge of a heart-shaped area that has intrigued astronomers since the New Horizons probe sent back the first clear images of the planet’s surface, they’ve seen evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto’s surface.
“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars”, mission co-investigator John Spencer said.
According to officials, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager captured streams of sunlight at Pluto, with two distinct layers of haze present too, as found in the image’s analysis. “As these hydrocarbons fall to the lower, colder parts of the atmosphere, they condense into ice particles that create the hazes”, the space agency explained. When ultraviolet light from the sun interacts with methane in the upper atmosphere, it transforms the gas into more complex hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene and acetylene. “In the southernmost region of the heart, adjacent to the dark equatorial region, it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits”.