Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Atmosphere of Pluto

The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons


Gladstone et al


Observations made during the New Horizons flyby provide a detailed snapshot of the current state of Pluto's atmosphere. While the lower atmosphere (at altitudes less than 200 km) is consistent with ground-based stellar occultations, the upper atmosphere is much colder and more compact than indicated by pre-encounter models. Molecular nitrogen (N2) dominates the atmosphere (at altitudes less than 1800 km or so), while methane (CH4), acetylene (C2H2), ethylene (C2H4), and ethane (C2H6) are abundant minor species, and likely feed the production of an extensive haze which encompasses Pluto. The cold upper atmosphere shuts off the anticipated enhanced-Jeans, hydrodynamic-like escape of Pluto's atmosphere to space. It is unclear whether the current state of Pluto's atmosphere is representative of its average state--over seasonal or geologic time scales.

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