When you think of Pluto, you probably imagine that really far away tiny planet you once learned about in elementary school.
But for a team of scientists at NASA, the dwarf planet just became a lot more interesting. As the New Horizons spacecraft passed Pluto, it sent back images to Earth. And now that they're here, we've made two major discoveries.
Firstly, it appears the planet has blue skies. Photographs revealed that the hazes around Pluto are blue, and look something like this:
"A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles," science team researcher Carly Howett said. "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."
But the blue haze wasn't all. New Horizons has also detected several small pockets of water ice all throughout the surface. Previously, the water ice wasn't visible. Science team member Jason Cook hypothesized that's because of the "more volatile ices across most of the planet" that may have kept them hidden.
"Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into," he added.
In a curious twist, the New Horizons aircraft registered the water and areas surrounding the water as being red in the first color photographs.
"I'm surprised that this water ice is so red," Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park, said. "We don't yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto's surface."