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NASA: New Horizons Captures Rare Condesation Clouds, Weird Weather on Pluto

Oct 19, 2016 07:49 AM EDT
Pluto Gets Its Closeup As 'Horizons' Images Arrive On Earth
Small but packed with great things, the dwarf planet Pluto keeps on surprising us. Recently, the New Horizons spacecraft captured an unexpected frozen world on pluto as well as some cloud candidates.
(Photo : NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via Getty Images)

Small but packed with great things, the dwarf planet Pluto keeps on surprising us. Recently, the New Horizons spacecraft captured an unexpected frozen world on Pluto as well as some possible clouds.

Taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera during a July 2015 flyby of the New Horizons by Pluto, NASA scientists say that there's a big chance that what the spacecraft captured on the dwarf planet's atmosphere were clouds -- rare condensation clouds, to be exact.

Alen Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, and his team released seven photos of the speculated clouds on Pluto.

"We've noticed a large number of concentric layers of haze, more than two dozen. These haze layers stretch very high into the sky — more than a half million feet, or 200 kilometers," said Stern in a news release from NASA.

The images show bright hazy layers over the planet's surface, which, according to Stern, could be potential cloud formations. If they are indeed clouds, Stern explained that the weather on Pluto would be weirder or more complex than what scientists previously thought.

Telescope observation shows that Pluto's icy surface varied in brightness. Bonnie Buratti, a co-investigator from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains that the brightness on Pluto means that there's surface activity on the dwarf planet's atmosphere.

“Because we see a pattern of high surface reflectivity equating to activity, we can infer that the dwarf planet Eris, which is known to be highly reflective, is also likely to be active," he said.

Meanwhile, with the recent discoveries of the New Horizons on Pluto, Stern expressed his excitement.

“We’re excited about the exploration ahead for New Horizons, and also about what we are still discovering from Pluto flyby data. Now, with our spacecraft transmitting the last of its data from last summer’s flight through the Pluto system, we know that the next great exploration of Pluto will require another mission to be sent there," he said.

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