It’s been a long and boring road for the small craft, yet it’s paying off now. The spacecraft New Horizons confirmed Pluto has Methane. Yet it’s not in its gaseous form, but, as expected due to Pluto’s surface temperatures, that Methane is frozen.
With thirteen days to go until it reaches our favorite former planet of the Solar System, New Horizons’ findings are getting more and more interesting, as the scientists at the NASA research centers are excited to tell.
Earth based astronomers first discovered that there was methane on Pluto in 1976, yet back then they didn’t have a little helper that could go out there and see for himself. Now, the scientists from the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, had just that. And by see, I mean use its infrared spectrometer to detect the purple hazes of light that indicate the presence of the frozen gas.
The science team at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado is equally excited. Alan Stern, a member of the team, has said that the terrain on Pluto has turned out to be extremely diverse: there are bright areas and dark areas. Jeff Moore from the Ames Center further speculated that what we see as a bright fringe on Pluto may be a deposit of frost from the an evaporating polar cap, which is now pointing towards the summer sun.
Yet, the significance of this find may easily elude us. The methane gas detected on Pluto did not come from cows or other bovines, but is a direct remnant from the formation of our Solar System. It is one of the primordial gases that resulted when the planets were shaped. So, theoretically, that gas has been on Pluto from the very beginning.
This discovery is not something you see every day, and I’m sure that if New Horizons didn’t have so much going on right now, it would stop and celebrate. But it can’t. The piano-sized apparatus, chock-full of intricate measurement devices, is set to arrive at Pluto’s micro-system on July 14th, where it will look at the sunlit atmosphere of the planetoid to see what its composition is. That’s exciting news for any space enthusiast, and as New Horizons draws closer and closer, we can’t help but wonder what it will find next.
Image source: i.space.com