Pluto's Extra Cold Temperatures Are Caused by Its Hazy Skies

Friday, 17 November 2017 - 8:45PM
Space
Astronomy
Solar System
Friday, 17 November 2017 - 8:45PM
Pluto's Extra Cold Temperatures Are Caused by Its Hazy Skies
NASA
Pluto is far colder than it should be. Sure, it's really far away from the Sun, but based on its distance from its primary source of heat, it should be really cold, when in reality, it's really, really cold.

A new NASA-backed study that's been published this week in Nature may have uncovered the reason why Pluto is so particularly cold. According to the research, this is the result of what are called "haze particles" that absorb heat and turn it into infrared radiation.

This proposed explanation for Pluto's temperature comes as a result of research from the New Horizons spacecraft, which suggests that Pluto may be colder than previously assumed - instead of being a nippy 100° Kelvin (-280° Fahrenheit or -173° Celsius), the dwarf planet may actually experience cold as low as 70° Kelvin (-333° Fahrenheit, -203° Celsius).

Bearing in mind that 0° Kelvin is literally the coldest that something can possibly be, a 30° drop in Pluto's expected temperature is a big deal.


Back in 2015, New Horizons visited Pluto to get some phenomenal photos of the tiny wannabe planet which showed off the layers of haze that engulf the entire environment. This haze isn't a gas, but rather a lot of little particles, almost like dust or smoke, that fill the sky in order to affect the way that sunlight interacts with the surface.

To stand on Pluto (if you could endure the heat) would be to experience a very cloudy, foggy environment with poor visibility due to the sheer amount of haze that floats in the atmosphere. According to the study:

Opening quote
"We find that haze particles have substantially larger solar heating and thermal cooling rates than gas molecules. We conclude that Pluto's atmosphere is unique among Solar System planetary atmospheres, as its radiative energy equilibrium is controlled primarily by haze particles instead of gas molecules."
Closing quote


It would make sense that particles in the atmosphere of the dwarf planet would shield Pluto from a certain amount of the warming heat from the Sun, and would go some way to explaining why Pluto is such a cold place in spite of its (relative) proximity to a big heat source.

These haze particles are believed to be hydrocarbons, which, yes, does technically mean that Pluto is experiencing carbon freeze, like a giant spherical Han Solo.

Whatever's going on all the way off on Pluto, one thing is certain: it's very, very cold there. We'll no doubt learn more about the former planet in the next few years as solar system exploration gets more bold, but in the meantime, it's enough to know that we probably wouldn't want to visit without at least wearing a parka.

 
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