The Ralph instrument on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft detected water ice on Pluto's surface, picking up on the ice's near-infrared spectral characteristics. (See featured image from Oct. 8, 2015.)
The middle panel shows a region west of Pluto's "heart" feature -- which the mission team calls Tombaugh Regio -- about 280 miles (450 kilometers) across. It combines visible imagery from Ralph's Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) with infrared spectroscopy from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA). Areas with the strongest water ice spectral signature are highlighted in blue. Major outcrops of water ice occur in regions informally called Viking Terra, along Virgil Fossa west of Elliot crater, and in Baré Montes. Numerous smaller outcrops are associated with impact craters and valleys between mountains.
In the lower left panel, LEISA spectra are shown for two regions indicated by cyan and magenta boxes. The white curve is a water ice model spectrum, showing similar features to the cyan spectrum. The magenta spectrum is dominated by methane ice absorptions. The lower right panel shows an MVIC enhanced color view of the region in the white box, with MVIC's blue, red and near-infrared filters displayed in blue, green and red channels, respectively. The regions showing the strongest water ice signature are associated with terrains that are actually a lighter shade of red.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.