Surface of Pluto May Contain Organic Molecules
Imaged Above: Dwarf planet Pluto is seen in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. CREDIT: Hubble
The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted new evidence of complex organic molecules — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it — on the frigid surface of Pluto, a new study finds.
Hubble observations revealed that some substances on Pluto’s surface are absorbing more ultraviolet light than expected. The compounds in question may well be organics, possibly complex hydrocarbons or nitrogen-containing molecules, researchers said.
The dwarf planet Pluto is known to harbor ices of methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen on its surface. The ultraviolet-absorbing chemical species may have been produced when sunlight or super-speedy subatomic particles known as cosmic rays interacted with these ices, researchers said.
“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,” study leader Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement.