According to the latest reports released by NASA, New Horizons has confirmed that there is methane on Pluto. NASA said that scientists first learned about the existence of methane on Pluto in the late 1970s. Twenty years later the astronomers confirmed the presence of this chemical compound on this planet.
In order to come to this conclusion, the scientists equipped New Horizons with special technology known as infrared spectrometer. Will Grundy, one of the leaders of the New Horizons’ Surface Composition project, explained that as soon as the spacecraft gets closer to Pluto, it will be able to determine if there is methane in other regions of the planet. Also, the spacecraft will tell if methane exists in different composition or forms.
Methane is a gaseous substance that is both colorless and odorless, and exists under the surface as well as in the Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists say that this gas is primordial on Pluto, which means that it was produced by the solar nebula which formed the solar system billions of years ago.
New Horizons spacecraft not only confirmed the presence of methane on Pluto, it also managed to capture images of the planet and its surrounding moons using a special camera known as the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager. The spacecraft’s latest set of photos were taken between May 28 and June 25; this set includes images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
According to the images, Pluto appears to be having a surface with a strong contrast, a bright northern hemisphere, and a band of darker materials that run the length of the planet’s equator. The images of Charon show that the moon has a dark polar region, with lower latitudes that vary in brightness.
Scientists say that on July 14, New Horizons will be in charge of observing ho the sun sets and rises on Pluto. Observing how the sun sets and rises will help the scientists determine the composition of Pluto’s atmosphere.
According to NASA, the spacecraft is less than 11 miles away from reaching its destination. The astronomers said every system functions normally, which means that New Horizons is in very good shape and will complete the mission successfully.
New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory were in charge of designing, building and operating the spacecraft.
Image Source: sci-news