Blue skies : Nasa reveals 'gorgeous' conditions on Pluto in stunning new images

Nasa announcement: Pluto has blue skies and water ice, agency says, as it reveals stunning pictures of dwarf planet. Never before has Pluto - a resident of the distant Kuiper Belt, a frigid region of the solar system beyond Neptune that is home to many comets and asteroids - been observed in such detail. 'Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous,' said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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    Skies Are Blue

    Source: Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    THE sky over Pluto may not be sunny, but it’s undoubtedly blue. We finally got a full-color view of Pluto’s skies—and they look awfully familiar. On Earth, the sky looks blue because sunlight scatters when it strikes the tiny nitrogen molecules that dominate the atmosphere. “On Pluto they appear to be larger, but still relatively small,” said science team researcher Carly Howett in the statement. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft discovered Pluto’s surprising blue sky during the historic fly-by of the icy dwarf planet in July. The images of its atmospheric haze were beamed down last week and released by NASA overnight.

    “That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles,” said science team researcher Carly Howett, also of SwRI. “A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger — but still relatively small — soot-like particles we call tholins.”

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    Nasa says it doesn't yet understand why the water ice appears so red in its images from New Horizons probe

    Source: Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Particularly that big red splotch in the lower left corner. Researchers attribute a lot of Pluto’s red color to tholin particles, which condense and get coated in frost before falling back down to Pluto’s surface.

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    Composite image from New Horizons spacecraft

    Source: Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Regions on Pluto having exposed water ice appear in blue in this composite image from New Horizons spacecraft's Ralph instrument, which combines visible imagery from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) with infrared spectroscopy from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA).

    Scientists said they are uncertain why the ice appears in certain places on Pluto and not others.
    Launched in 2006, New Horizons is now 63 million miles beyond Pluto. Johns Hopkins University in Maryland is operating the spacecraft for NASA. With its systems and plutonium fuel healthy, the spacecraft could continue to relay data back to Earth about the third ring of the solar system for more than 20 years.

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