The Weather on Pluto is More Complex than Thought

The Weather on Pluto is More Complex than Thought

We have already learnt a lot about Pluto thanks to the flyby done by NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons the previous summer. One of the findings revealed that the dwarf planet has an atmosphere that consists of several layers that go up to about 124 miles. The latest images show the atmosphere might also have clouds, which means that the weather on Pluto is much more complicated question that scientists might have thought.


There are seven clearly seen shapes that have similar length and float at the same low altitude. All of them are situated near the line that separates the surface on the day and night parts. This suggests they are most possibly clouds, as that line is the place where condensation may happen due to the differences in temperature.

It may be thought that these “clouds” are just rare shapes that appear and disappear every dusk and dawn, but NASA experts remind us that one day on Pluto lasts 6.4 Earth days, which makes the phenomena more distinguishable.

There are computer models of the atmosphere that may determine complicated patterns of the weather on Pluto. According to these models, if any clouds could be found, they would be located on low altitudes, just where the shapes were spotted.

The atmosphere of the dwarf planet consists of many layers of haze that covers mountain tops. This haze might have prevented the scientists from spotting whether the “clouds” have distinguished shadows on the surface of the planet. If the theories turn out to be true, the clouds most probably consist of the same elements that all the atmosphere does: nitrogen, methane, ethane, ethylene, and acetylene.

plutoHowever, according to the New Horizon mission team, in order to be sure those figures are clouds, they need additional information. It could be received if another flyby happened, or better if an orbiter was sent there to monitor the condition of the weather on Pluto. Also, the spacecraft has to be packed with sophisticated science equipment, including a higher resolution camera to capture the “clouds”.

The situation may become more clear when the final parts of the information gathered by the flyby will be received. It will happen on the 23rd of October, but it will take time for the data to be investigated.

The receiving and processing of the data the New Horizons have gathered becomes more difficult as it flies farther from Earth every day. But the spacecraft is reported to be fully functional, which means sooner or later all the images will be received by NASA, and some of them will be shown to the public.

By the way, 10 years have passed since Pluto was eliminated from the official list on the Solar System planethood. Now we have only 8 planets and one famous dwarf planet. However, there’s a guess that the discovery of the planet’s complex atmosphere and increasing interest to its investigating may give Pluto its place back. Nobody knows what this frozen world hides from astronomers, so these cloud-like features may be only the beginning.

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Posted in: General, Universe