by Staff Writers
St. Andrews, Scotland (UPI) Apr 19, 2011
British astronomers say they have confirmed the presence of poisonous carbon monoxide gas in the atmosphere of Pluto, the only dwarf planet with an atmosphere.
Jane Greaves of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland led a team of British astronomers who found a strong signal of the gas in Pluto's atmosphere using a telescope in Hawaii, SPACE.com reported Tuesday.
She will present the findings Wednesday at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Wales.
Previously thought to extend to about 60 miles above the surface, the new measurements show the atmosphere extends to more than 1,860 miles above Pluto.
The carbon monoxide and methane, the only other gas to be positively identified, are probably the result of solar heating of Pluto's surface ice as the planet has recently moved through its closest approach to the sun in its 248-year orbit around the solar system.
"Seeing such an example of extraterrestrial climate change is fascinating," Greaves said. "This cold simple atmosphere that is strongly driven by the heat from the sun could give us important clues to how some of the basic physics works, and act as a contrasting test-bed to help us better understand the Earth's atmosphere."
The million outer planets of a star called Sol
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