NASA’s fascination with Pluto is finally taking shape in the form of a newly released paper. Named “The Pluto System: Initial Results from its exploration by new Horizons”, it is the first paper that has been peer-reviewed, which is discussing geological activity in all of its forms on Charon and Pluto. It also tackles Pluto’s atmosphere, its composition and the conclusions that can be drawn after the first set of images that New Horizons sent back.
The paper is also accompanied by an enhanced image from above Pluto, which highlights that there are more colors on the planet’s surface than anybody else had predicted. The general concept was that Pluto might have been engulfed in darkness, being the last and furthest planted from the sun. However, New Horizons showed us that this is not the case and the planet is quite alive color-wise.
The paper is strictly focused on discussing the New Horizons discoveries based on its flyby on July 14th this year. It makes use of all the gathered information until now, but this is only a preliminary study. More images are also expected to arrive at a later date, so there might be other papers, studies, conclusions that could be drawn once the information is received.
The data that travelled from far, far away was studied by Protopapa and some of her colleagues. Images were provided by a device known as a near-infrared spectral imager named Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array, or LEISA. The spectral imager’s mission was to map Pluto’s composition and that of its moons so that we may study if the variety of colors is a result of different compositions.
And differences were found. Pluto’s equator, for example, contains very little ice. Scientists found that western regions of the heart were composed of carbon monoxide ice and methane ice. Variations like these are likely to cause Pluto to have a variety of colors, so even if it is the furthest away planet from the sun, it is definitely a paradise of colors.
Silvia Protopapa, who contributed to the paper, mentioned that NASA “knew Pluto’s surface was heterogeneous on ground-based data. However, I was astonished to see such spectacular surface color and geological diversity.”
It seems like NASA’s fascination with Pluto is giving some palpable results, showing the world that assumptions about celestial bodies can sometimes lead to other conclusions than the obvious ones. We shall see what new things they reveal once the complete data from Pluto arrives.
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