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Charon's red spot caused by Pluto's atmosphere

Pluto's largest moon Charon has a red spot at its north pole that is said to be caused by the atmosphere of Pluto. Charon's red spot was seen by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby in July 2015.

  • Updated: September 16, 2016 12:05 AM IST
red spot on pluto

Pluto has been sharing its atmosphere with its largest moon, Charon which has lead to the red spot at the satellite’s North Pole. After going through the images obtained by NASA’s New Horizons probe, scientists says that they have found that the reddish spot at the North Pole of Charon is chemically processed methane that escaped from Pluto’s atmosphere onto its largest moon. The cameras on New Horizons spacecraft first spotted the large reddish polar region on Charon in June 2015. The scientists say that they have never spotted such a thing in the entire solar system. Also Read - High-speed solar storm to hit Earth today, impact phone signals: NASA warns

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“This study solves one of the greatest mysteries we found on Charon, Pluto’s giant moon,” said study co-autho Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator from the Southwest Research Institute. “And it opens up the possibility that other small planets in the Kuiper Belt with moons may create similar, or even more extensive ‘atmospheric transfer’ features on their moons,” Stern noted. Over the past year, after analyzing the images and other data that New Horizons has sent back from its historic July 2015 flight through the Pluto system, the scientists think Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto itself.

Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto as methane gas that escapes from Pluto’s atmosphere and becomes “trapped” by the moon’s gravity and freezes to the cold, icy surface at Charon’s pole. This is followed by chemical processing by ultraviolet light from the sun that transforms the methane into heavier hydrocarbons and eventually into reddish organic materials called tholins, the researchers detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature. ALSO READ: NASA discovers a super Grand Canyon on Pluto s moon Charon

“Who would have thought that Pluto is a graffiti artist, spray-painting its companion with a reddish stain that covers an area the size of New Mexico?” asked Will Grundy, a New Horizons co-investigator from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona and lead author of the paper. “Every time we explore, we find surprises. Nature is amazingly inventive in using the basic laws of physics and chemistry to create spectacular landscapes,” Grundy noted. For the study, the team combined analyses from detailed Charon images obtained by New Horizons with computer models of how ice evolves on Charon’s poles. The cameras on New Horizons spacecraft first spotted the large reddish polar region on Charon in June 2015 – something scientists had never seen elsewhere in our solar system. ALSO READ: Liquid ocean on Pluto could be a possibility: Study

Over the past year, after analyzing the images and other data that New Horizons has sent back from its historic July 2015 flight through the Pluto system, the scientists think Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto itself. “This study solves one of the greatest mysteries we found on Charon, Pluto’s giant moon,” said study co-author Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator from the Southwest Research Institute. “And it opens up the possibility that other small planets in the Kuiper Belt with moons may create similar, or even more extensive ‘atmospheric transfer’ features on their moons,” Stern noted.

Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto as methane gas that escapes from Pluto’s atmosphere and becomes “trapped” by the moon’s gravity and freezes to the cold, icy surface at Charon’s pole. This is followed by chemical processing by ultraviolet light from the sun that transforms the methane into heavier hydrocarbons and eventually into reddish organic materials called tholins, the researchers detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature.

“Who would have thought that Pluto is a graffiti artist, spray-painting its companion with a reddish stain that covers an area the size of New Mexico?” asked Will Grundy, a New Horizons co-investigator from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona and lead author of the paper. “Every time we explore, we find surprises. Nature is amazingly inventive in using the basic laws of physics and chemistry to create spectacular landscapes,” Grundy noted.

For the study, the team combined analyses from detailed Charon images obtained by New Horizons with computer models of how ice evolves on Charon’s poles.

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  • Published Date: September 16, 2016 12:00 AM IST
  • Updated Date: September 16, 2016 12:05 AM IST



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