New Horizons might have swept past Pluto months ago, but we’re still learning some cool things from the images that are being beamed back. In the latest picture, NASA reported that they’ve spotted some layers in the planet’s atmosphere.
The pictures show a little more complexity to Pluto, giving us some good ideas of how the atmosphere works and how it’s organised:
Scientists believe the haze is a photochemical smog resulting from the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules in Pluto’s atmosphere, producing a complex mixture of hydrocarbons such as acetylene and ethylene. These hydrocarbons accumulate into small particles, a fraction of a micrometre in size, and scatter sunlight to make the bright blue haze seen in this image.
As they settle down through the atmosphere, the haze particles form numerous intricate, horizontal layers, some extending for hundreds of miles around Pluto. The haze layers extend to altitudes of over 120 miles (200 kilometres).
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI