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Why Pluto's X-Ray Emissions are Baffling Scientists

Sep 19, 2016 03:42 AM EDT
New Horizons Nears July 14 Flyby Of Pluto
X-rays glow was detected on the icy, dark body Pluto on the edge of the Solar System and it has baffled scientists around the world.
(Photo : NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI via Getty Images)

The controversial former planet Pluto is at it again. After X-ray emissions were detected from the region, scientists are asking why is Pluto behaving this way.

The icy world located at about 3.6 billion miles away from the Sun looks like it does not lack energy since astronomers discovered that the dwarf planet appears to be emitting X-rays or high-energy radiation linked to temperatures that can go up to one million degrees.

Located near the Kuiper belt, Pluto is now known to be the farthest source of X-ray in the Solar System, if the emissions can be proven to be X-rays. Having X-ray sources in the region will provide a deeper and slightly more different understanding of Pluto's atmosphere. Experts find the sighting "odd" since Pluto is supposed to be dark, cold and frozen, according to a report.

Initially, experts perceived Pluto as just another icy, dead rock, but due to the New Horizons spacecraft, new knowledge about Pluto was gathered. It is also responsible for identifying clues that lead to the pointing of a potential atmosphere in Pluto. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics wondered if Pluto can be seen in the X-ray area of the spectrum.

"The idea is that if the sun is emitting high energy particles, and those high energy particles hit cold gas, the atomic interactions will create an x-ray glow from a planet that we can see," Scott Wolk from the Harvard Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics said in an interview with Gizmodo.

This has baffled scientists simply because of the fact that Pluto may be too far away from the Sun to produce such X-ray emissions. However, the signs of the possible atmosphere have already ignited the interests of the scientific community to investigate further about the X-ray emissions on Pluto. Wolk and his colleagues believe that it may even be possible to detect X-rays.

This led to the discovery of X-ray light photons coming from the planet. The researchers managed to identify that information using the Chandra X-ray Observatory between February 2014 and August 2015. In a monumental discovery, it was pointed out that Pluto isn't the cold icy planet people once believed but lukewarm, at least.

However, there is no sign of a magnetic field. Other suggests that the X-ray could be from the Sun scattered as it bounced from Pluto's surface but Wolk and the study insist that the X-ray is not solar in nature.

The researchers believe that the X-ray emissions they detected are result of solar particles colliding with the planet's atmosphere made up of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen. But the researchers would need to conduct further and in-depth research to prove if Pluto is lukewarm or potentially even boiling hot. But the researchers still marvel at Pluto's glow, which they considered an amazing feature of a body billions of miles away from the Sun.

 

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