Shop Windows to the Universe

The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.
This is an image of Pluto.
Click on image for full size
Image from: NASA

A Look at 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 is found, 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 a molecule called methane.

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

It is also possible that the presence of nearby Charon draws molecules escaping from Pluto's atmosphere to the surface of Charon, as suggested in this image. So this double planet may exchange molecules from their atmospheres.


Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, ranging from evolution, classroom research, and the need for science and math literacy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

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

The Atmosphere of Triton

Triton is by far the largest moon of Neptune. It is slightly smaller than Earth's Moon. The surface of Triton is colder than the surface of any other planet or moon in our Solar System. It is so cold on...more

Pluto & Charon, a double 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

Carbon Monoxide - CO

Carbon monoxide is kind of gas. It is poisonous. A molecule of carbon monoxide (CO) has one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. Earth's atmosphere has a small amount of carbon monoxide in it. The carbon monoxide...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

A Look at 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 is found, 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

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF