NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft released new photos of Pluto this week that have revealed a mysterious reddish haze swirling about in Pluto’s atmosphere. The images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, the first ever spacecraft to have photographed Pluto in such close proximity, also showed the flow and movement of nitrogen ice on the dwarf planet’s surface, and perhaps even hinted at a potential atmospheric collapse.
According to reports by Time, the reddish haze extends for about 80 miles above Pluto’s surface, casting a dark silhouette that outlines the dwarf planet’s surface. Researcher Mike Summers and his colleagues concluded that particles in the haze were most likely reacting and then transforming into tholins, complex molecules that give off a reddish hue.
Aside from the mysterious haze surrounding Pluto, nitrogen ice on Pluto’s surface was also observed to be flowing and swirling across wide expanses of mountains and craters. According to reports by the Guardian, researcher Bill McKinnon and other scientists believe that these nitrogen swirls are most likely caused by an internal heat source that permeates through Pluto’s surface, releasing energy to set the nitrogen ice into motion. Scientists postulate that there may be an internal ocean that is driving this movement.
The images taken by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), also seemed to confirm the theory that Pluto’s atmosphere will soon collapse and completely disappear. NASA scientists said that the dwarf planet’s atmosphere has decreased at a remarkably fast pace by a factor of two over the past two years and is predicted to most likely be on the verge of complete collapse.
The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto last week on July 14, passing the former planet at a distance of 7,700 miles. The spacecraft is set to continue to explore the Kuiper Belt for another two decades and will undoubtedly make new remarkable discoveries in its journey through space.
[Photo by NASA/APL/SwRI via Getty Images]