The New Horizons spacecraft made a flyby past Pluto in July 2015. However, the enormous distance has proved an impediment for the quick dissemination of data from the spacecraft to ground stations, the data from the brief encounter with the spacecraft with Pluto is still being beamed back and is giving scientists new and fascinating insights about the dwarf planet.
NASA scientists at the European Planetary Science Congress meeting in Pasadena, California said that the data sent by the New Horizons spacecraft indicates that Pluto could have cloud cover. They also said that the next destination, a Kuiper Belt Object could be much akin to Pluto in its composition and features.
Pluto could be a dwarf planet on the outer fringes of the Solar System. It does not mean that it is a barren and inert place but as the New Horizons flyby revealed, the dwarf planet has a tenuous atmosphere. The pressure of its atmosphere is 100,000 times less than the earth’s atmosphere and is majorly composed of nitrogen with traces of methane and carbon dioxide.
All the components of the atmosphere have been sublimated from the ice on the Plutonian surface. The hazy atmosphere is complex, and there are strong seasonal changes which take decades to occur and are caused by different ice sublimates which re-freezes in some other area of the planet.
The presence of clouds on Pluto was never seen before, and this is something which has excited the scientists. The presence of clouds indicates a much more complex atmosphere than previously thought. The condensation clouds were seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera on the New Horizons Craft when it focused on the sunlit rim. NASA has also said that landslides commonly feature on rocky and icy planets, but this was not observed on Pluto but was seen on Pluto’s moon Charon.