Shop Windows to the Universe

Check out the fun Earth science related bumper stickers in our online store! Express yourself!
This is an image of Pluto.
Click on image for full size
Image from: NASA

An Overview of Pluto's Atmosphere

It may seem hard to believe that Pluto could have an atmosphere because it is so cold at 39 AU, where Pluto resides, but it does. Because there are times when Pluto is closer to the sun than is Neptune (making it the 8th planet for roughly 20 years at a time), ices on Pluto's surface evaporate and form an atmosphere. It is continually produced and lost again as long as Pluto is inside Neptune's orbit.

The air is made mostly of nitrogen gas, just like that of the Earth and Saturn's moon Titan, with the addition of carbon monoxide (CO - what comes out of your car) and methane (CH4).

The atmosphere is also similar to that of Neptune's moon Triton.. On Triton there are seasons and motions within the atmosphere. Because Pluto has a heavier atmosphere than Triton, there may even be clouds, winds, and storms. However, seeing these clouds and winds on Pluto is difficult.

It is also possible that the presence of nearby Charon draws material escaping from Pluto's atmosphere to recondense on the surface of Charon, as suggested in this image. So this binary planet may exchange atmospheric molecules.


Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, ranging from seismology, rocks and minerals, oceanography, and Earth system science to astronomy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Atmosphere of Triton

Triton, by far the largest moon of Neptune, is slightly smaller than Earth's Moon. Triton has the coldest surface temperatures in our Solar System. Surprisingly, this frigid moon has an atmosphere, albeit...more

Pluto & Charon, a binary planet

Of all the planets and moons in the solar system, Pluto and Charon are the two which resemble each other the most closely. They are almost the same size, and they are very close together. They are so...more

Pluto

Pluto is a frigid ball of ice and rock that orbits far from the Sun on the frozen fringes of our Solar System. Considered a planet, though a rather odd one, from its discovery in 1930 until 2006, it was...more

Questions to answer about Pluto

Pluto is so far away, and has never been explored. Questions to answer about Pluto include the following: What are the geologic features of the surface. (pictures of the surface) If there are bare spots,...more

An Overview of Pluto's Atmosphere

It may seem hard to believe that Pluto could have an atmosphere because it is so cold at 39 AU, where Pluto resides, but it does. Because there are times when Pluto is closer to the sun than is Neptune...more

A Look at Pluto's possible Magnetosphere

No one knows whether or not Pluto has a magnetosphere. Scientists were very surprised to find that Jupiter's icy moon Ganymede had a magnetosphere because it is hard to explain how an icy body can develop...more

The Moons of Pluto

Pluto has // Call the moon count function defined in the document head print_moon_count('pluto'); known moons. Charon, the largest by far, was discovered in 1978 by the American astronomer James Christy....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA