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The atmosphere of Pluto as observed by New Horizons

  • O. M., Umurhan
  • A. J., Verbiscer
  • M. H., Versteeg
  • M., Vincent
  • R., Webbert
  • S., Weidner
  • G. E., Weigle
  • O. L., White
  • K., Whittenburg
  • B. G., Williams
  • K., Williams
  • S., Williams
  • A. M., Zangari
  • E., Zirnstein
  • G. R., Gladstone
  • S. A., Stern
  • K., Ennico
  • C. B., Olkin
  • H. A., Weaver
  • L. A., Young
  • And 139 more
Published Article
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Publication Date
Mar 14, 2016
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8866
SETI Institute


In July 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft flew through the Pluto system at high speed, humanity's first close look at this enigmatic system on the outskirts of our solar system. In a series of papers, the New Horizons team present their analysis of the encounter data downloaded so far: Moore et al. present the complex surface features and geology of Pluto and its large moon Charon, including evidence of tectonics, glacial flow, and possible cryovolcanoes. Grundy et al. analyzed the colors and chemical compositions of their surfaces, with ices of H2O, CH4, CO, N2, and NH3 and a reddish material which may be tholins. Gladstone et al. investigated the atmosphere of Pluto, which is colder and more compact than expected and hosts numerous extensive layers of haze. Weaver et al. examined the small moons Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra, which are irregularly shaped, fast-rotating, and have bright surfaces. Bagenal et al. report how Pluto modifies its space environment, including interactions with the solar wind and a lack of dust in the system. Together, these findings massively increase our understanding of the bodies in the outer solar system. They will underpin the analysis of New Horizons data, which will continue for years to come.

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