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The atmosphere of Pluto was known to extend more than 60 miles (about 100 kilometers) above the surface, the researchers said, but the new findings raise that height to more than 1,860 miles (3,000 km) — equivalent to a quarter of the distance out to Pluto's largest moon, Charon.
"The change in brightness over the last decade is startling. We think the atmosphere may have grown in size, or the carbon monoxide abundance may have been boosted.
" Fluctuations in the atmosphere have been seen before, but only in the lower atmosphere, where methane — the only other gas to be positively identified — has also been seen to vary, the researchers said.
The atmospheric gases are likely the result of solar heating of Pluto's surface ice, which evaporates due to the slightly higher temperatures experienced during this period. In 1989 Pluto made its closest approach to the sun, which is considered a relatively recent event, considering that it takes the planet 248 years to complete one orbit around the sun.
Pluto's resulting atmosphere is probably the most fragile in our solar system, the researchers said, with the top layers blowing off into the cosmos.
The newly discovered carbon monoxide could play a key role in slowing the loss of Pluto's atmosphere. But, if the chilling effect is too great, it could result in nitrogen snowfalls and all the gases freezing on the ground, the researchers said.
Earth's atmosphere extends over 100,000 km.
Originally posted by XRaDiiX
Look Pluto has an atmosphere as large as Earths almost!
Originally posted by nataylor
reply to post by backinblack
Including the exosphere, yes, it extends for quite a distance.
The upper boundary of the exosphere can be defined theoretically by the altitude about 190,000 kilometres (120,000 mi), half the distance to the Moon, at which the influence of solar radiation pressure on atomic hydrogen velocities exceeds that of the Earth’s gravitational pull. The exosphere observable from space as the geocorona is seen to extend to at least 100,000 kilometres (62,000 mi) from the surface of the Earth. The exosphere is a transitional zone between Earth’s atmosphere and interplanetary space.
I totally agree. However, what they're finding on Pluto at that distance is likely just as diffuse as the Earth's upper exosphere. So if you're comparing diameters, it would make sense to compare to points of similar density.
Originally posted by XRaDiiX
but its a scattered amount of lighter particles like hydrogen and helium. The density is extremely low
The CO upper boundary estimated to be at about 4500 km above the centre of Pluto corresponds to ≈ 4 radii, for RPluto ≈ 1153 km (Tholen & Buie 1997). This is a reasonable upper bound, given that above ≈ 3-5 RPluto, the gas should become so diﬀuse that is is collisionless (Strobel 2008), and thus the CO J=2 level will not be populated. Also, interaction with the solar wind will cause ionised gas (and any swept-up neutrals) to ﬂow away into space, above ≈ 5 RPluto in the simulations of Delamere (2009); Harnett et al. (2005).