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 fun classroom activities
for you and your students. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science!
You might also be interested in:
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
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 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 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
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
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
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