Haze Particles Cool Pluto’s Atmosphere, New Research Finds | Planetary Science, Space Exploration

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It seems solid-phase haze particles badist cool the ambiance of the dwarf planet Pluto. That’s in response to new badysis by planetary scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and elsewhere.

According to Zhang et al, Pluto’s atmosphere is unique among Solar System planetary atmospheres, as its equilibrium temperature is controlled primarily by solid-phase haze particles instead of gas molecules. This artist’s impression shows a view of the moon Charon through Pluto’s atmospheric haze layers above the mountain landscape of bedrock water ice covered partially with deposition of dark, reddish haze particles. Image credit: X. Liu.

According to Zhang et al, Pluto’s ambiance is exclusive amongst Solar System planetary atmospheres, as its equilibrium temperature is managed primarily by solid-phase haze particles as a substitute of gasoline molecules. This artist’s impression exhibits a view of the moon Charon by means of Pluto’s atmospheric haze layers above the mountain panorama of bedrock water ice lined partially with deposition of darkish, reddish haze particles. Image credit score: X. Liu.

The gasoline composition of a planet’s ambiance usually determines how a lot warmth will get trapped within the ambiance.

For Pluto, nevertheless, the anticipated temperature was a lot greater than precise measurements taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2015.

Dr. Xi Zhang from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and colleagues suggest a novel cooling mechanism managed by haze particles to account for the dwarf planet’s frigid ambiance.

“The cooling mechanism involves the absorption of heat by the haze particles, which then emit infrared radiation, cooling the atmosphere by radiating energy into space,” they mentioned.

“The result is an atmospheric temperature of minus 333 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 203 degrees Celsius), instead of the predicted minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 degrees Celsius).”

According to the workforce, the surplus infrared radiation from haze particles in Pluto’s ambiance must be detectable by NASA’s future James Webb Space Telescope, permitting affirmation of the speculation after the telescope’s deliberate launch in 2019.

“Extensive layers of atmospheric haze can be seen in images of Pluto taken by New Horizons,” the scientists mentioned.

“The haze results from chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere, where ultraviolet radiation from the Sun ionizes nitrogen and methane, which react to form tiny hydrocarbon particles tens of nanometers in diameter.”

“As these tiny particles sink down through the atmosphere, they stick together to form aggregates that grow larger as they descend, eventually settling onto the surface.”

“We believe these hydrocarbon particles are related to the reddish and brownish stuff seen in images of Pluto’s surface,” Dr. Zhang mentioned.

The badysis is printed within the journal Nature.

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Xi Zhang et al. 2017. Haze heats Pluto’s ambiance but explains its chilly temperature. Nature 551: 352-355; doi: 10.1038/nature24465

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