Pluto’s atmosphere is about 4.5 times larger than its diameter; Research

Scientists have found that Pluto has more atmosphere than previous expectations.

This research has been published online preprint site Arxiv and has been submitted to the journal Icarus.

There are so many variations in the universe that we got amazed all the time. Previously, researchers found that Makemake lack atmosphere. It is another dwarf planet beyond Pluto. Now scientists have found that Pluto’s atmosphere is so much large.

Artist's depiction of Pluto's surface with the patches of methane (Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)

Astronomers have combined two known models of Pluto’s atmosphere to check the escape rate of the molecules into space and found that atmosphere of the Pluto could extend to 6,456 miles (10,390 kilometers) into space i.e. nearly about 4.5 times the diameter of Pluto. Scientists have found that some of the molecules of the atmosphere of Pluto could be found on its largest moon. That atmosphere varies with the distance of the planet from the sun while rotation in its elliptical orbit.

“That is amazing, from my perspective,” said Justin Erwin, the lead author of the paper and a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia. “Our [calculated escape rate] is a little bit smaller, but the small change in the escape rate causes a large change in the structure of the atmosphere.”

Atmosphere of Pluto consists of methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide that are thought to come from the planet’s surface. As the planet comes near the sun, heat evaporates the ice causing the gases to escape into the space whereas the ice again develops as the planet moves away from the sun. Heat from the sun came in the form of infrared light as ultraviolet lights from the sun is absorbed in the atmosphere.

Do you know the year’s time of Pluto? It is 248 Earth years. Last time Pluto came closer to the sun in 1989.

Scientists are trying to know the escape rate of the gases before the arrival of NASA’s New Horizons probe at Pluto in 2015.


Justin T. Erwin, O. J. Tucker, Robert E. Johnson, (2012). said arXiv:1211.3994 [astro-ph.EP]

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