New images of the dwarf planet Pluto reveal a blue atmospheric haze and patches of frozen water, NASA said on Thursday.
The images were captured last week by the New Horizons spacecraft, which was launched in 2006 on a mission to provide the first ever reconnaissance flyby of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the region beyond Neptune.
The transmission included the first color images of Pluto's atmospheric haze, showing a blue sky that surprised scientists.
"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Colorado's Southwest Research Institute, in a statement.
The color is likely due to gray or red particles, NASA said, which scatter the blue light. Scientists are also studying how the particles act in the atmosphere and what happens as they fall to earth.
Pluto and its moon Charon are known as ice dwarfs, with a large portion of their mass coming from ice — unlike terrestrial planets such as Earth. Its surface consists of materials including frozen nitrogen and frozen methane.
On Thursday, NASA also revealed that patches of the dwarf's surface are water ice. Now, scientists will study why the water ice appears in some places over others.