Mystery of Pluto's super-cold atmosphere is finally solved: Hazy skies keep the dwarf planet at -200°C

Mail Online | 11/15/2017 | Tim Collins For Mailonline
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Astronomers have long puzzled over why Pluto's atmosphere is a bone-chilling -203°C - around 30 degrees colder than it should be theoretically.

Now, researchers say the mystery has been solved.

Experts - Haze - Hydrocarbon - Particles - Compounds

Experts have found a unique haze of hydrocarbon particles - organic compounds that are products of the break-up of gases like methane - around the planet.

The presence of these particles in the upper atmosphere is thought help to cool Pluto's surface, by absorbing heat from the sun and radiating it back into space.

Cooling - Effect - Applications - Earth - Warming

Such a cooling effect could also applications here on Earth to help tackle global warming.

Researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) examined measurements of Pluto's surface temperature taken by Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft in 2015.

Composition - Gases - Planet - Heat - Atmosphere

The composition of the gases that surround a planet generally determine how much heat gets trapped inside the atmosphere.

If scientists are able to measure this mix, as they have with Pluto, they can predict what temperatures will be like on the surface.

Planet - Temperatures - Composition - Measurements - New

For the dwarf planet, however, predicted temperatures based on this composition were much higher than the measurements taken by New Horizons.

This suggested that some additional force was at work, lowering surface temperatures.

UCSC - Team - Cooling - Mechanism - Presence

The UCSC team believes that their proposed cooling mechanism, which revolves around the presence of hydrocarbons, might just be that force.

First author Xi Zhang, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, said: 'It's been a mystery since we first got the temperature data from New Horizons.

'Pluto - Body - Energy - Budget - Haze

'Pluto is the first planetary body we know of where the atmospheric energy budget is dominated by solid-phase haze...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Mail Online
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