Pluto is our solar system’s other “red planet”.
Astronomers believe large swathes of the planet may be covered in “tholins”, molecules that form when methane is exposed to sunlight.
Earth hasn’t seen tholins for about 2.4 billion years, as its atmosphere has an oxidising effect on them. Interestingly, some scientists believe that tholin-rich comets crashing into our planet may have given it the raw material necessary for life to develop.
But for now, we know tholins as the things which make some planets red, and because of that, snow on the top of mountains on these planets is a beautiful thing. Here’s a closer look:
(We’ve deliberately included that strange triple gash with a glowing bit at the top left, if someone cares to have a go at explaining it.)
The enhanced colour image from New Horizons is of one of Pluto’s most identifiable features, the Cthulhu region, which stretches 3000km nearly halfway around the equator.
In the southwest is the mountain range snapped by New Horizons which is some 420km long, and the snow on top of them is believed to be methane which has condensed as ice.
“That this material coats only the upper slopes of the peaks suggests methane ice may act like water in Earth’s atmosphere, condensing as frost at high altitude,” said John Stansberry, a New Horizons science team member.
For the photographers, the picture was taken from a height of 33,900km at a resolution of about 680 metres per pixel.
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