Would you get sunburned on Pluto?

Pluto's surface is icier than expected

Baltimore / Vienna - Apparently there is more frozen water on the surface of Pluto than was previously thought possible. A recently published false color map, which is based on new data from the NASA probe New Horizons, reveals a surprisingly large proportion of water ice on the dwarf planet.

The famous "heart" of Pluto seems to be an exception here: "Interestingly, you can see practically no ice in the Sputnik Planum region on the new images," NASA researchers are surprised. "This suggests that Pluto's water-ice underground is covered, at least in this area, by a thick layer of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide ice."

The images now presented were taken during the New Horizons Flyby in July 2015 from a distance of 108,550 kilometers. The infrared instrument Leisa (Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array) is responsible for the discovery of the water ice, recognizable in the image as blue and turquoise tones.

Another three years on the road

New Horizons is currently flying towards a small object called 2014 MU69, which is about 1.6 billion kilometers beyond the Plutobahn. If the US space agency receives the appropriate funding, the probe will be able to take a closer look at the celestial body in January 2019. Until then, however, New Horizons still has enough to do to send the many images and data from its last encounter to earth. (tberg, 3.2.2016)