A new study is investigating Pluto’s atmosphere. The probe took a clear picture of the dwarf planet in 2015 showing Pluto not as barren as scientists think. The photo shows a heart-shaped structure called the Fort Tom area, which has attracted a lot of attention for Pluto.
New research suggests that nitrogen controls the dwarf planet’s atmospheric circulation. Pluto’s atmosphere is mostly made up of nitrogen, which also has small amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Frozen nitrogen covers part of Pluto’s surface, forming the shape of the heart. During Pluto’s day, a thin layer of nitrogen ice heats up and turns into steam, the team said. At night, the water vapor condenses into ice. Scientists say the cycle pumps nitrogen to the dwarf planet. The team noted that this cycle drives the atmosphere to circulate in the opposite direction of its rotation.
This is a unique phenomenon that the team calls reversal. As air circulates near the surface, it transmits heat, ice and mist particles, creating dark wind streaks and plains in the north and northwest of Pluto. Even if the atmosphere density is low, wind can affect the surface, the team said. Most of the nitrogen ice is confined to the Tombaugh area. On the left is a 620-mile ice sheet, located in a 1.9-mile-deep basin known as Sputnik Planitia. Because of the low altitude, most of the nitrogen ice is preserved in that area. The right leaf consists of highland and nitrogen-rich glaciers and extends to the basin.