Recent images sent by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft appears to show clouds on Pluto’s atmosphere hovering over the frozen landscape. This could mean that the planet has an even richer atmosphere than researchers originally thought. But why that’s important?
On July 14 of last year, New Horizons passed the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon and won’t be returning. However, the spacecraft has a load of data to send back to Earth, actually, its already sent gigabytes of valuable data revealing a number of unexpected findings and information connected to planet’s atmosphere and chemical compositions.
But in the new image, it appears that Pluto’s atmosphere is capable of ‘creating’ clouds.
You can see an extremely bright low altitude limb haze … on the left and a discrete fuzzy cloud seen against the sunlit surface … on the right,
John Spencer at Southwest Research Institute pointed out to the New Scientist.
Those clouds are still speculations, and the discovery hasn’t been reported publicly but the possibility that the dwarf planet has a weather system has many scientists in a tizzy. If it turns out that Pluto have a complex weather system and its capable of creating, it strengthens the case that it should reinstate Pluto to the status of the 9th planet of the solar system.
It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, [and] active geology,
The mission’s principal investigator Alan Stern explained.
The presence of clouds in Pluto’s atmosphere would certainly boost the case for Pluto’s planet status.
In a previous interview with Space.com, Stern explained his skepticism of Pluto’s demotion:
It shouldn’t be so difficult to determine what a planet is. When you’re watching a science fiction show like “Star Trek” and they show up at some object in space and turn on the viewfinder, the audience and the people in the show know immediately whether it’s a planet, or a star, or a comet or an asteroid. And that’s at a moment’s notice. They do not need to know things like, “What else is around it? And, let’s see, we’re going to integrate orbits, we’re going to find out if it’s cleared its zone, or it might some day, or maybe it could but it didn’t.” That’s making something hard out of something easy, and it reflects poorly on astronomy and astronomers.