Data from New Horizons reveals more water ice on Pluto than previously thought

False-colour, infrared maps of Pluto from New Horizons, showing regular detection method of water ice on the left and the more sensitive technique on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JHUIAPL/SwRI
False-colour, infrared maps of Pluto from New Horizons, showing regular detection method of water ice on the left and the more sensitive technique on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JHUIAPL/SwRI

New Horizons has shown Pluto to be a diverse world, more so than many scientists had anticipated, with tall mountain ranges, vast glaciers, a blue-colored layered atmosphere, and possible ice volcanoes. One thing, however, which seemed to be relatively lacking, was exposed water ice. Not much had been seen on the surface, not even in the glacial regions, which are composed of other ices instead. But now, new data indicates there actually is more water ice than had originally been thought.

Read MoreData from New Horizons reveals more water ice on Pluto than previously thought

Image Gallery: the hazy blue atmosphere of Pluto

The hazy blue atmosphere of Pluto. @NASA/JPL/Roman Tkachenko
The hazy blue atmosphere of Pluto. Image Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/Roman Tkachenko

Another beautiful view of Pluto, taken by New Horizons as it passed by the dwarf planet on July 14, 2015. Pluto is backlit by the Sun, showing the hazy blue colour of its thin atmosphere, a view never possible from Earth. Image processing by Roman Tkachenko. It is also now the current header image for the blog. Larger version available here.

Read MoreImage Gallery: the hazy blue atmosphere of Pluto

Pluto’s large nitrogen ice ‘sea’ probably formed from giant impact, scientists say

The vast ice plains of Sputnik Planum on Pluto. The basin, now filled with nitrogen ice, was probably created by a huge impact. Photo Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
The vast ice plains of Sputnik Planum on Pluto. The basin, now filled with nitrogen ice, was probably created by a huge impact. Photo Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Instead of being little more than a frozen and unchanging rocky iceball, Pluto has been revealed to be a complex and dynamic little world, with mountains, valleys, vast icy plains, glaciers and a hazy, layered atmosphere. The New Horizons spacecraft is continuing to send back data, even though it is now long past Pluto since its historic flyby last summer. Seen up close for the first time ever, Pluto is starting to share its secrets, including how it can be a geologically active place despite being so far from the Sun; of particular interest to scientists are the icy, crater-free plains composed of nitrogen ice, which churns and moves very slowly, sort of like the globules in a lava lamp. These plains are like a huge nitrogen ice “sea,” bordered by tall mountains and glaciers.

Read MorePluto’s large nitrogen ice ‘sea’ probably formed from giant impact, scientists say

Stunning new images of Pluto’s surface are best yet from New Horizons mission

New high-resolution image of Pluto from New Horizons, showing jumbled blocks in the water-ice crust, which border the smooth nitrogen-ice plains. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
New high-resolution image of Pluto from New Horizons, showing jumbled blocks in the water-ice crust, which border the smooth nitrogen-ice plains. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The New Horizons mission has already sent back phenomenal images and data from Pluto, but it keeps getting better. New images released today are the first in a series of the highest-resolution photos taken of Pluto’s surface during the flyby last July, showing mountains, glaciers, and craters in unprecedented detail.

Read MoreStunning new images of Pluto’s surface are best yet from New Horizons mission

A complex world: Pluto discoveries include possible ice volcanoes, varied geology and weird spinning moons

Slide from the DPS meeting showing possible ice volcanoes on Pluto. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Slide from the DPS meeting showing possible ice volcanoes on Pluto. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto is a small, cold world, but it is also turning out to be one of the most fascinating places in our Solar System – as reported this week at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, images and other data have revealed possible ice volcanoes and other surprisingly diverse geology as well as weirdly spinning moons.

Read MoreA complex world: Pluto discoveries include possible ice volcanoes, varied geology and weird spinning moons