Over the ground lies a mantle of white — on Pluto. Snow-capped peaks on the dwarf planet dot an otherwise ruddy terrain. But these snowy summits appear to be composed of methane, not water, researchers report online March 3.
Mountain tops in Pluto’s Cthulhu Regio, a dark landscape abutting the planet’s famous heart, reflect more light than the surrounding area. The New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past Pluto on July 14, found that the bright regions correspond to surface deposits of methane. Mission scientists speculate that perhaps methane in the atmosphere on Pluto behaves like water in the air on Earth, building up on the ground as frost at the highest (and coldest) elevations.