“This is in a real sense the capstone of the initial missions to explore the planets. Pluto, its moons and this part of the solar system are such mysteries that New Horizons will rewrite all of the textbooks.” -Alan Stern
The New Horizons mission surprised everyone last July when it revealed Pluto to be a world that varied significantly in both terrain and color. Instead of a uniform, reddish-hued icy world, it was revealed to have mountains, craters, smooth plains, pitted regions and more, which range in color from white to yellow to deep red.
This was initially a mystery, but subsequent analysis has revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere and outer surface consists of a great many volatile molecules, including water, nitrogen and methane. While water ice and nitrogen ice simply sublimate, methane undergoes a complex interaction with ultraviolet light, resulting in the production of tholins, which turn the surface red where they’re deposited.
The story is still unfolding, but freshly snow-capped regions and pictures of the entire world support this idea. Go get the whole story in a myriad of pictures and no more than 200 words on today’s Mostly Mute Monday!