Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft makes its first detection of methane on Pluto

The infrared spectrometer on board Nasa’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has detected frozen methane on the dwarf planet’s surface, Nasa announced on 30 June. ‘We already knew there was methane on Pluto, but these are our first detections,’ explained Will Grundy, the New Horizons Surface Composition team leader with the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, US. ‘Soon we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another.’ Earth-based astronomers first observed methane on Pluto in 1976. NASA suggests that methane may be primordial on Pluto, inherited from the solar nebula from which the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.