NASA's New Horizons team discovers vast reserves of H2O ice on Pluto

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Feb 2, 2016, 10:53 AM EST

Sno-cones for everyone!  NASA's New Horizons scientific team headquartered at Johns Hopkins University just revealed some intriguing new updates on the amount of water ice potentially on Pluto.  This false-color image below, derived from infrared light observations by the spacecraft's Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument, shows where the unique spectral features of concentrated water ice are amazingly abundant on Pluto’s frigid surface.  These images are based on LEISA scans of Pluto obtained on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 67,000 miles.  Previous maps (left) attempting to measure Pluto's bedrock ice were deemed inaccurate, discounting the fact that surface methane ice often obscures valid spectral readings of water ice. 

This new method (right) takes a sensitive composite approach, modeling the contributions of Pluto's various ices together to achieve a more realistic measurement of the abundance of frozen H2O.


Here's NASA's detailed explanation of this frosty discovery:

"The new map shows exposed water ice to be considerably more widespread across Pluto's surface than was previously known — an important discovery. But despite its much greater sensitivity, the map still shows little or no water ice in the informally named places called Sputnik Planum (the left or western region of Pluto's 'heart') and Lowell Regio (far north on the encounter hemisphere). This indicates that at least in these regions, Pluto's icy bedrock is well hidden beneath a thick blanket of other ices such as methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide."

(Via NASA/New Horizons)