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New Horizons spots polar ice cap on Pluto

Posted on Saturday, 2 May, 2015 | Comment icon 9 comments

The spacecraft will arrive at its destination in July. Image Credit: NASA
The approaching spacecraft has snapped photographs of what appears to be polar ice on the dwarf planet.
After a voyage across the solar system spanning nine years and covering more than three billion miles, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft remains on course to become the first probe ever to visit Pluto when it flies past the dwarf planet in July of this year.

In the run up to its arrival NASA has this week released a series of tantalizing new images taken by the probe's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).

The photographs show Pluto at a distance of around 70 million miles with a distinctive bright spot on its surface that scientists believe could be an indication of a polar ice cap.

"As we approach the Pluto system we are starting to see intriguing features such as a bright region near Pluto’s visible pole, starting the great scientific adventure to understand this enigmatic celestial object," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
"As we get closer, the excitement is building in our quest to unravel the mysteries of Pluto using data from New Horizons."

The below slideshow, which was posted to NASA's New Horizons Twitter account, shows the motion of Pluto's moon Charon circling around it as the probe edges ever closer to its target.

Despite having spent the better part of a decade reaching Pluto however the spacecraft will pay only a fleeting visit to the enigmatic dwarf planet before heading off to explore the Kuiper belt, a cold and distant region of the solar system filled with asteroids and icy bodies.

"We will take hundreds of thousands of photographs and spectral images of Pluto and its moons as New Horizons sweeps past," said mission principle investigator Alan Stern.

Source: Forbes | Comments (9)

Tags: Pluto, New Horizons

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Merc14 on 30 April, 2015, 18:13
New Horizons now has the best images ever of Pluto and Charon and sees what may be a polar cap on Pluto!
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 30 April, 2015, 21:16
New Horizons Sees Pluto and CharonThis series of New Horizons images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken at 13 different times spanning 6.5 days, starting on April 12 and ending on April 18, 2015. During that time, the NASA spacecraft's distance from Pluto decreased from about 69 million miles (111 million kilometers) to 64 million miles (104 million kilometers). The pictures were taken with the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI. Pluto and Charon rotate around a center-of-mass (also called the "barycenter") once every 6.4 Earth days, and these LORRI images ca... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by Sundew on 30 April, 2015, 21:23
This is really cool, can't wait until it gets closer!
Comment icon #4 Posted by bison on 1 May, 2015, 14:47
Very cool, indeed! Pluto is near perihelion, the nearest the Sun it comes in its highly eccentric orbit. It should have a temperature of around 55 Kelvin, which is minus 218 Celsius; minus 361 Fahrenheit. If it actually has polar caps they're presumably made of frozen nitrogen, or methane, or carbon monoxide, or a combination of these.
Comment icon #5 Posted by fred_mc on 2 May, 2015, 11:35
The sunlight on Pluto is quite weak so I think the temperature difference between the equatorial region and the polar regions would be quite small on Pluto, much smaller than on Earth. Therefore I find it a bit strange if there are ice caps or other features that only exist on the polar regions on Pluto.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Maizon on 2 May, 2015, 23:08
Looks like an asteroid, its not completely round.
Comment icon #7 Posted by maximusnow on 4 May, 2015, 15:08
Who knows what we will find as we venture closer, maybe another bright spot?
Comment icon #8 Posted by Infernal Gnu on 6 May, 2015, 20:25
The bright spot will turn out to be a huge sign the Plutonians have erected demanding that they be returned to full planetary status or they will direct thousands of Kuiper Belt objects towards the inner solar sytem.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Machala2012 on 7 May, 2015, 22:14
I think the fac that Pluto is still getting its Air time is good, so many people forgot about it. Kids in school these days dont even really know about it. So Sad.

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