May 21, 2020

Pluto Is Emitting Strong X-Rays And No One Knows How Or Why

Scientists have detected powerful X-ray emissions from Pluto. A study led by the Chandra X-ray observatory exposed the emissions, baffling researchers about the dwarf planet, whose designation was demoted by the International Astronomical Union in 2006 after many Kuiper Belt Objects of same size were discovered.

The new detection originate from researchers' current analysis of data from NASA’s New Horizons (NH) probe, which did an extraordinary flyby of Pluto in July 2015. 

Even though researchers have earlier found some solar bodies releasing X-rays, as an outcome of their interaction with solar winds, such discharges coming from Pluto, which is situated so far away from the Sun, are extremely unexpected.

Pluto releasing X-rays has now upraised more questions about its atmosphere and its interaction with solar winds.

Pluto was still undergoing summer when New Horizons made its flyby. The spacecraft identified Pluto's atmosphere was composed mostly of nitrogen gas (N²), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO²). Before New Horizon's flyby, Pluto's atmosphere was reflected to be objectively extended.

Nevertheless, after learning that it was less extended than earlier thought, astronomers planned to search for X-ray emissions. However, the X-rays discharged were found to be much larger than expected.

The accurate source of Pluto's X-ray emissions is likely to stay a mystery for the time being. Nonetheless, as data from the NH mission is possibly to be scoured in the coming decades, it is likely that new and more interesting information about Pluto will be uncovered.

The new research was led by astronomers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL), the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Southwest Research Institute (SwI), the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSCC), and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Ames Research Center. The research has been issued in Icarus.

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