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How Pluto’s haze could explain its red spots

Collapse of atmosphere may influence blotchy surface colors

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9:41am, March 22, 2017
Pluto's hazy horizon

LAYERED HAZE  Not long after the New Horizons spacecraft buzzed Pluto, it captured an image revealing dozens of layers in Pluto’s atmosphere. That haze affects surface features such as the dwarf planet’s red patches, a new study suggests.

Pluto may get its smattering of red spots from the fallout of its hazy blue skies, researchers say.

Haze particles from the dwarf planet’s atmosphere settle onto all of Pluto’s surfaces. But some regions may become redder and darker than others because parts of the atmosphere collapse, exposing those spots to more surface-darkening radiation from space, researchers report March 22 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

“The atmospheric haze on Pluto was a spectacular surprise,” says NASA New Horizons mission scientist Andrew Cheng, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University. When the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto in 2015, scientists weren’t expecting to see haze reaching at least 200 kilometers above the dwarf planet’s surface; nor were they expecting to see the haze divided into about 20 delicate and distinct layers (

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