Water ice turns out to be more widespread on the dwarf planet than previously thought, the mission’s researchers reported today. They came to that conclusion after some sophisticated analysis of infrared imagery captured during the New Horizons spacecraft’s flyby last July 14.
Soon after the flyby, the mission team concluded that Pluto possessed mountains of water ice rising as high as 11,000 feet above the icy world’s surface. That conclusion was confirmed in follow-up studies based on the infrared data from the piano-sized probe’s Ralph/LEISA instrument.
LEISA’s survey mapped concentrations of water ice, but scientists figured out that the spectral readings could be thrown off if the frozen water was mixed in with frozen methane. When they modeled the contributions from other types of ice on Pluto’s surface, the resulting map showed wider stretches where water ice should be present.