"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

"That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles," said science team researcher Carly Howett, also of SwRI.

"A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger — but still relatively small — soot-like particles we call tholins," said Howett.
    
In a second major finding, New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto, researchers said. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons.
    
"Large expanses of Pluto don't show exposed water ice because it's apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet. Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into," said science team member Jason Cook, of SwRI.
    
"I'm surprised that this water ice is so red," said Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park.
    
"We don't yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colourants on Pluto's surface," said Protopapa.
    
The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 5 billion kilometres from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

 

 

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