Pluto probe spots ice islands in a nitrogen sea

Image: Pluto's icy hills
This image focuses in on a part of Pluto’s heart-shaped region where hills of water ice appear to be floating on top of a nitrogen glacier. Challenger Colles, toward the top of the inset photo, is a wide cluster of water-ice hills. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

There’s plenty of evidence that Pluto is a frozen water world, with mountains of ice that rise more than 10,000 feet in height, but here’s something even weirder: Huge chunks of frozen H2O appear to be floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen, like icebergs in Earth’s polar regions.

Those are among the findings reported on Feb. 4 in this week’s update from NASA’s New Horizons mission. The piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft collected gigabytes’ worth of observations last year during its July 14 flyby, and it’s been sending back data ever since then.

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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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