New Horizon’s is zeroing in on Pluto, as NASA scientists continue looking for clues in the images that they’re receiving of the two bodies set out to study. Pluto and its moon, Charon, have been the center of this study since the New Horizon’s mission began, and increasingly has been getting closer views of the planet ever since. Pluto is a part of a large debate that goes right back to determining whether the planet is even large enough to be characterized as such.
Interestingly though, new photos which were captured on June 18th reveal a bright spot in one portion of the planet, which scientists believe could be an icy spot. Whether that ice is methane or water, remains to be seen, but the debate remains about what might be happening on a dwarf planet that humans simply haven’t had the opportunity to really investigate thoroughly to this point.
The bright spot is beleived to be originated around the north pole of the dwarf planet, and while there is still a great deal of speculation – New Horizon’s is still more than 14 million miles away from the surface of the planet. So, not exactly within striking distance.
Dr. Philip Plait, who has blogged on this subject pointed out in one of those recently published blogs that the findings were surprising. He said specifically, “That bright spot on Pluto surprised me. That’s near its north pole and its been seen before in earlier images, basically as a splotch. In this image it’s quite obvious.”
Jeff Moore of NASA Ames Research Center pointed out that, “The unambiguous detection of bright and dark terrain units on both Pluto and Charon indicates a wide range of diverse landscapes across the pair.” He went on to add that, “For example, the bright fringe we see on Pluto may represent frost deposited from an evaporating polar cap, which is now in summer sun.”
There are a lot of unknowns here at play. Things that scientists are trying to understand better, as they can finally start to collect some harder data on a dwarf planet that has been debated as broadly as its existence. While no one thought that Pluto was a part of someones imagination, the classification of the planet is something that has been hotly contested, and now, with the data coming together, and the New Horizon’s craft reaching its closest point in two weeks – things are definitely going to be speeding forward.
There is an interesting debate to be had, but having it with the right information is crucial, and now NASA might be closer than ever to answering some of the basic, and even more advanced questions that they have had about the most distant planet in our solar system.