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Pluto Has Giant Versions of Ice Formations Found on Earth

Surface of Pluto imaged by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Using a model similar to what meteorologists use to forecast weather and a computer simulation of the physics of evaporating ices, scientists have found evidence of snow and ice features on Pluto that, until now, had only been seen on Earth.

Read the rest of this story here: Scientists Offer Sharper Insight into Pluto’s Bladed Terrain

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Icy Nix Indicates Pluto’s Moons Are Leftovers From a KBO Collision

A view of partially-lit Nix, captured from 14,000 miles by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A view of the 22-mile-wide Nix by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Recent findings from the New Horizons team reveal that Pluto’s third-largest satellite Nix is covered in the purest water ice yet observed in the dwarf planet system, even purer in spectra than what was seen on its slightly larger sibling Hydra. This analysis further supports the hypothesis that Pluto’s moons were created in an impact event that formed the Pluto-Charon system, over 4 billion years ago.

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Hail Hydra: Pluto’s Moon is Covered in Almost Pure Water Ice

One of Pluto's smaller moons Hydra, imaged by New Horizons on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 km). (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Hydra, one of Pluto’s smaller moons, imaged by New Horizons on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 km). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Discovered in June 2005, distant Pluto’s outermost moon Hydra it thought to have formed during the same collision four billion years ago that created the Pluto-Charon system that we see today. Yet despite its age this 31-mile (50-km) -long moon appears remarkably clean and bright,  as witnessed by New Horizons during its close pass through the Pluto system in July 2015.

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There’s More Water Ice on Pluto Than First Thought

Initial scans of Pluto's water ice (left) and new interpretations taking into account other elements and compounds (right). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Initial scans of Pluto’s pure water ice (color data, left) and new interpretations taking into account other elements and compounds (right). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

When New Horizons made its close pass pf Pluto on July 14, 2015, it did much more than just take pretty pictures; it was also scanning the planet with a suite of science instruments designed to determine the nature of its surface, atmosphere, composition, and other key characteristics. One of these instruments was the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA), an infrared scanner that can detect the unique molecular “fingerprints” of particular elements and compounds like methane, nitrogen, carbon monoxide… and water (one of our favorites!)

At first the data returned from LEISA showed only a surprisingly small amount of water ice across Pluto’s surface. But that was water ice in its pure form; when researchers took into consideration ice containing a mixture of water and other materials they found a much more widespread distribution across the surface area visible to New Horizons.

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A Craterful of Cracks

The northwest quadrant of a frost-filled crater on Mars. Original image ESP_042895_2495; credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The northwest quadrant of a frost-filled crater on Mars. Original image ESP_042895_2495; credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Here’s a view of a section of a crater on Mars filled with a lacework of bright spidery fractures, acquired on Sept. 20, 2015 with the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The crater is approximately 3 miles (5 km) wide and located in Mars’ north polar region, and its old, infilled interior has undergone countless millennia of freeze/thaw cycles that have broken the surface into polygons of all sizes, outlined by frost-filled cracks.

The fractured segments get increasingly more compressed closer to the crater rim, which contains the outward freeze expansion.

According to the image description from the HiRISE team:
The crater rim constrains the polygon formation within the crater close to the rim, creating a spoke and ring pattern of cracks. This leads to more rectangular polygons than those near the center of the crater. The polygons close to the center of the crater display a more typical pattern. A closer look shows some of these central polygons, which have smaller polygons within them, and smaller polygons within those smaller polygons, which makes for a natural fractal! 

See a wider view of the imaged region here.

Source: HiRISE/University of Arizona

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