NASA's New Horizons Highlights Possible Pluto Polar Cap

Pluto may have a polar cap, NASA has said, something that is based on data from the space agency's New Horizons spacecraft. NASA released a bunch of information graphs yesterday, as well as images and animations taken by the spacecraft of Plus and its moon Charon. The images were snapped 13 times over the course of nearly seven days, having taken place from April 12 to April 18 from a distance of approximately 69 million miles. Shown in some of the images is a bright spot that may indicate a polar cap.

According to NASA, the series of images — which were taken with New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager — show one complete rotation of the Pluto system. In a magnified look at the animated images one can see a brighter area on the disk in the planet's polar region.

Researchers believe that bright area could be the result of a polar cap made of "highly reflective snow" lying on the surface, though that snow is thought to be made of "frozen molecular nitrogen ice". Whether this is correct, however, won't be determined until July when New Horizons is closer.

NASA also points toward some changes in the brightness patterns as Pluto (as shown in the animation above) moves, something that is assumed to be the result of big dark and bright spots at "different longitudes" on the planet's surface.