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New Horizons Reveals Pluto’s Water Ice To Be More Extensive Than Previously Known

Water Ice On Pluto

A new map of Pluto crafted from data beamed back by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has revealed an important discovery: the existence of much more exposed water ice than scientists were previously aware of.

In the image seen above–credited to NASA, JHUIAPL and SwRI–one can see two false color renderings of the planet intended to depict the existence of water ice. The rendering on the left, which was created by comparing infrared light observations taken by the Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument aboard New Horizons with a pure water ice template spectrum, failed to adequately depict the planet’s water ice because of the spectral signature masking caused by the existence of methane ice. Resolving this concern, the more recent rendering seen on the right employs a method that is considerably more sensitive, one in which scientists accounted for the various ices found on the planet.

While the method used to produce the latest rendering also has its limitations, the team behind its creation is, according to NASA, continuing to improve upon the model while incorporating new data.

The data captured by New Horizons that was used to create the new map of water ice on the distant dwarf planet was obtained on July 14, 2015. The observations were made by the spacecraft’s instruments from a distance of about 67,000 miles.

What is seen in the mapping comes as the result of stitching the data derived from the scans, which were taken at 15 minute intervals, together in order to create a three-dimensional array of sorts known as a “data cube.”

Jupiter, the planet once referred to as the “White Star” by ancient Babylonians, may have ejected a suspected ninth planet from our solar system, according to research published late last year in The Astronomical Journal.

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