Haze in Pluto's Atmosphere [EPA]


Haze in Pluto’s atmosphere was detected in images by both the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on New Horizons. LORRI observed haze up to altitudes of at least 200 km above Pluto’s surface at solar phase angles from ~20{\deg} to ~169{\deg}. The haze is structured with about ~20 layers, and the extinction due to haze is greater in the northern hemisphere than at equatorial or southern latitudes. However, more haze layers are discerned at equatorial latitudes. A search for temporal variations found no evidence for motions of haze layers (temporal changes in layer altitudes) on time scales of 2 to 5 hours, but did find evidence of changes in haze scale height above 100 km altitude. An ultraviolet extinction attributable to the atmospheric haze was also detected by the ALICE ultraviolet spectrograph on New Horizons. The haze particles are strongly forward-scattering in the visible, and a microphysical model of haze is presented which reproduces the visible phase function just above the surface with 0.5 {\mu}m spherical particles, but also invokes fractal aggregate particles to fit the visible phase function at 45 km altitude and account for UV extinction. A model of haze layer generation by orographic excitation of gravity waves is presented. This model accounts for the observed layer thickness and distribution with altitude. Haze particles settle out of the atmosphere and onto Pluto’s surface, at a rate sufficient to alter surface optical properties on seasonal time scales. Pluto’s regional scale albedo contrasts may be preserved in the face of the haze deposition by atmospheric collapse.

Read this paper on arXiv…

A. Cheng, M. Summers, G. Gladstone, et. al.
Tue, 28 Feb 17

Comments: 48 pages, 26 figures