Pluto Invites Its Moon to Snuggle Together in Cozy Shared Atmosphere

Friday, 06 June 2014 - 3:47PM
Astronomy
Solar System
Friday, 06 June 2014 - 3:47PM
Pluto Invites Its Moon to Snuggle Together in Cozy Shared Atmosphere

It looks as though Earth's distant neighbor, Pluto, will soon be the first known planet to fuse it's thin protective atmosphere with that of it's moon, Charon. 

 

Astronomers have long been aware of this possibility but, until recently, they theorized that the atmosphere's assumed chemical composition of methane was not conducive to this sort of atmosphere fusion. 

 

Thanks to modern telescope technology, and the subsequent discovery that Pluto's atmosphere is composed of nitrogen (as opposed to methane), Robert Johnson of the University of Virginia has been able to simulate the reaction of the cold dwarf planet's atmosphere to its moon. His research suggests that if the atmosphere is indeed composed of nitrogen, Pluto and Charon's atmospheres will effectively become one. 

 

"It's thought to happen all the time in astronomy, such as in the case of binary stars or exoplanets located close to their stars," says Johnson. "Calculations and computer models are one thing. But here we have a spacecraft that's going to fly by and directly test our simulations, which is quite exciting." 

 

For further confirmation, NASA's will be sending it's new horizon spacecraft to near Pluto next year, to investigate the chemical composition of it's atmosphere from close-up. 

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