Map reveals more water ice on Pluto

Image: Pluto water map
This false-color infrared image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows water ice concentrations on Pluto. The left image is the result of an initial analysis, and the right image has been reprocessed to account for mixtures with other types of ice. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

A color-coded map from NASA’s New Horizons mission shows where Pluto’s frozen water is concentrated, just in case we need to fill up our tanks on the way toAlpha Centauri or Planet Nine.

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.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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