NASA revealed yesterday that its New Horizons space probe had made some astonishing discoveries on Pluto when it flew past the dwarf planet earlier this year. NASA now reveal that Pluto’s sky is blue. And it has water.

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.

– NASA science team researcher Carly Howett


Tholins are solid, somewhat unusual molecules, that can be compared to tar or soot for the way they react and recombine with other molecules. In this case, NASA researchers believe the tholins form high above the surface, where sunlight ionizes the nitrogen and methane that makes up most of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

NASA further announced that the New Horizons photographed numerous smaller regions which reveal frozen water on Pluto’s surface (image to the right).

According to science team member Jason Cook;


Large expanses of Pluto don’t show exposed water ice,

because it’s apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet. Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into.

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New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto