Pluto’s atmosphere could freeze and disappear by the year 2030

pluto atmopshere freeze image 3274 1
A high-resolution image of Pluto taken by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. The image has been color-enhanced to show the different geological features of the surface. NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

Life is tough for dwarf planet Pluto. After being stripped of its status an a planet in 2006 for its small size, it may be facing an upcoming atmospheric armageddon.

Astronomers have been studying the seasonal changes to Pluto’s surface pressure using a technique called ground-based stellar occultations. An occultation occurs when an object like a moon or planet blocks the light coming to Earth from a more distant object like a star, like a solar eclipse. By observing how Pluto blocks the light from distant stars, information about the atmosphere’s density, pressure, and temperature can be measured.

“We were able to construct seasonal models of Pluto and how it responds to changes with the amount of sunlight it receives as it orbits the Sun,” Andrew Cole of the University of Tasmania said in a statement. “What we found was when Pluto is farthest away from the Sun, and during its winter in the northern hemisphere, nitrogen freezes out of the atmosphere.”

It is already pretty chilly on the surface of Pluto, with a surface temperature that varies between minus 378 and minus 396 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 228 to minus 238 degrees Celsius). Now we know that some seasons are colder than others — cold enough for nitrogen, which makes up the majority of the atmosphere — to freeze.

And the atmosphere is changing over time as well. Atmospheric pressure has increased by three times over the last thirty years. Models of the dwarf planet show that the majority of the atmosphere will condense outwards until almost nothing remains. “What our predictions show is that by 2030 the atmosphere is going to frost out and vanish around the whole planet,” Cole said.

If this happens, it will change the way that Pluto appears to us. The nitrogen freezing would reflect more sunlight, so Pluto would actually appear brighter in the sky. But the terrain of the dwarf planet will look different too. The colors observed by the New Horizons mission to Pluto in 2015, like the bright red terrain shown in the image above, may be hidden beneath nitrogen frost.

The findings will soon be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, and you can see the paper on the pre-publication archive arXiv.

Emerging Tech

Harvard University has a bold new plan to make Mars livable for humans

Want to live on Mars? Harvard researchers have a bold new way to make it happen. Their plan involves covering portions of Mars with an insulating aerogel. Here's why it could work.
Emerging Tech

China’s space station, Tiangong-2, has burned up in the atmosphere

China's space station, Tiangong-2, has burned up in the Earth's atmosphere as part of a planned deorbit. It was originally scheduled to be in space for two or three years, but it survived longer than expected and spent 1,000 days in space.
Emerging Tech

From the moon to mass production: 10 pieces of modern tech indebted to Apollo

This article is part of Apollo: A Lunar Legacy, a multi-part series that explores the technological advances behind Apollo 11, their influence on modern day, and what's next for the moon. You may have heard that freeze-dried food was…
Photography

The magic hour creates magical photos. Here’s how to capture dreamy stunners

The golden hour, aka the magic hour, is a special time for photographers that happens twice a day. Here are some simple tips for making the most of this time to capture stunning portraits, landscapes, and the like.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff! Here are all the moon missions happening in the next decade

The next 10 years are poised to be the most significant in lunar history in decades. What do we have to look forward to? Check out this handy guide to the coming decade of moon missions.
Photography

50 years later, the first camera on the moon is still collecting lunar dust

The cameras aboard Apollo 11 captured some of history's most iconic images, including shots of Earth and footprints on the lunar surface. To commemorate the first moon landing, we look back at how Hasselblad's stripped shooters came to be.
Cars

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Wearable chargers and A.I.-enhanced keyboards

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Mars 2020 rover enters its final year of engineering before launch

The countdown has begun for the last year of development before the Mars 2020 launches between July 17, 2020 and August 5, 2020. Progress on finalizing the rover is right on track, according to NASA.
Emerging Tech

Could Mars’ now-barren Gale Crater lake have once supported life?

The Gale Crater is the site of an ancient lake which existed for millions of years. But even after the lake disappeared, groundwater could have remained for billions of years. Now, a team of scientists is searching for clues of life there.
Emerging Tech

Practically perfect in every way: Hubble shows galaxy with amazing symmetry

This week's Hubble image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 2985, located over 70 million light-years away. Hubble scientists describe NGC 2985 as having near-perfect symmetry, showing tightly wound spiral arms which converge in the center.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Artemis capsule is complete, will carry the first woman to the moon

The crew capsule which will carry American astronauts to the moon as part of the Artemis project has been completed. The completion of the Artemis 1 capsule was announced by Vice President Mike Pence.
Emerging Tech

Three new astronauts join the International Space Station crew for Expedition 60

Exactly fifty years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, a new team of astronauts from NASA, Roscosmos, and ESA have arrived at the International Space Station to begin their stay there.
Emerging Tech

How re-engineering an old technology could give us EVs with 700 miles of range

Battery supply has been a critical limiting factor in electric vehicle adoption. Now Portland-based XNRGI has developed a battery based on old silicon wafer technology, and it could revolutionize the battery industry.
Emerging Tech

Parrot exits low-end drone market to focus on its Anafi quadcopter

Parrot is exiting the low-end drone market to focus on developing its more advanced Anafi drone for the commercial market. The company recently won a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a drone for soldiers.