Nasa’s New Horizons Spacecraft Confirms Presence of Methane on Pluto

As NASA’s New Horizons steadily makes its way to the Pluto system, the spacecraft has confirmed that there is methane on the planet.

These aren’t small spots, either.

That new mystery, and the question of why Charon is so much darker than Pluto, are proof that the dwarf planet is stubbornly holding onto its secrets – even as New Horizons is fast approaching to pry them away.

In January 2006, New Horizons was launched and from last nine-plus years, it has been moving in the direction of Pluto in addition to the region of icy bodies beyond Neptune, called the Kuiper Belt.

NASA researchers have identified a series of spots along the dwarf planet’s equator. While Pluto has a brown color, its biggest moon Charon appears a lot like our moon. See the photos illustrating that difference below.

New Horizons has been given a final “all clear” as it speeds ever closer towards its historic once-in-a-lifetime close encounter with Pluto. Charon has 12 percent the mass of Pluto and the two orbit a common center of gravity that is above the surface of Pluto.

The recently released images pictured above are a combination of black-and-white images taken by the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager and lower-resolution color pictures from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument.

The location of the Alice ultraviolet imaging spectrograph on the New Horizons spacecraft is indicated.

But the real Pluto – the cold sphere once considered a planet of our solar system – is still out there, billions of miles away.

The spacecraft needs to take a very calculated path past Pluto and its moons, to ensure its instruments point where they are supposed to on the 14th.

“Hal Weaver, a project scientist working on the Horizon mission since 2003 asserted”, We’re at the frontier of exploration of our solar system.

NASA Accelerates New Horizons Spacecraft… Program managers announced that New Horizons will be passing over the more geologically-interesting hemisphere of the dwarf planet during this closest approach.

Scientists have yet to see anything quite like the dark spots; their presence has piqued the interest of the New Horizons science team, due to the remarkable consistency in their spacing and size. Its name also honors Percival Lowell, who first caught hints of Pluto’s existence in 1905 and whose initials are the first two letters of Pluto.

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Credits NASA  Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory  Southwest Research Institute

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