Pluto's Surface May Contain Organic Molecules, Building Blocks Of Life Spotted By Hubble
Pluto may not be a planet anymore, but it still seems to have a few tricks up its sleeve.
A new study conducted jointly by the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado (SwRI) and Nebraska Wesleyan University has yielded intriguing results regarding the origins of the former planet's "ruddy" color.
Using the Hubble space telescope's "new and highly sensitive" Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, researchers have found potential evidence that complex hydrocarbon and/or nitrile molecules may grace the surface of Pluto.
Hydrocarbons, organic compounds consisting of solely hydrogen and carbon, are considered by many to be the "building blocks of life," but that doesn't mean there is or ever was life on Pluto. According to Space.com, the compounds could have been created when sunlight or cosmic rays interacted with ice on the surface.
But the find does shed light on Pluto's color, and possibly even the color of other masses in the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto resides.
"This is an exciting finding because complex Plutonian hydrocarbons and other molecules that could be responsible for the ultraviolet spectral features we found with Hubble may, among other things, be responsible for giving Pluto its ruddy color," Alan Stern of SwRI said in a statement.
In February, 2010 NASA released detailed images of the dwarf planet which showed a swirling red-orange surface with darker spots that scientists believe developed between 2000 and 2002.
If this new study is right, there may be an explanation for the change in coloring.
Hubble has been keeping an eye on Pluto for some time now, consistently unearthing new data about one of the furthest orbs from the sun. In July, NASA announced that it discovered a previously unknown fourth moon circling the dwarf planet, temporarily called P4.