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The Pluto system: Initial results from its exploration by New Horizons

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      Abstract

      The Pluto system was recently explored by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, making closest approach on 14 July 2015. Pluto's surface displays diverse landforms, terrain ages, albedos, colors, and composition gradients. Evidence is found for a water-ice crust, geologically young surface units, surface ice convection, wind streaks, volatile transport, and glacial flow. Pluto's atmosphere is highly extended, with trace hydrocarbons, a global haze layer, and a surface pressure near 10 microbars. Pluto's diverse surface geology and long-term activity raise fundamental questions about how small planets remain active many billions of years after formation. Pluto's large moon Charon displays tectonics and evidence for a heterogeneous crustal composition, its north pole displays puzzling dark terrain. Small satellites Hydra and Nix have higher albedos than expected.

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      The Pluto system: Initial results from its exploration by New Horizons

      The Pluto system was recently explored by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, making closest approach on 14 July 2015. Pluto's surface displays diverse landforms, terrain ages, albedos, colors, and composition gradients. Evidence is found for a water-ice crust, geologically young surface units, surface ice convection, wind streaks, volatile transport, and glacial flow. Pluto's atmosphere is highly extended, with trace hydrocarbons, a global haze layer, and a surface pressure near 10 microbars. Pluto's diverse surface geology and long-term activity raise fundamental questions about how small planets remain active many billions of years after formation. Pluto's large moon Charon displays tectonics and evidence for a heterogeneous crustal composition, its north pole displays puzzling dark terrain. Small satellites Hydra and Nix have higher albedos than expected.
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        Impact and cratering rates onto Pluto

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          Pluto's lower atmosphere structure and methane abundance from high-resolution spectroscopy and stellar occultations

          Context: Pluto possesses a thin atmosphere, primarily composed of nitrogen, in which the detection of methane has been reported. Aims: The goal is to constrain essential but so far unknown parameters of Pluto's atmosphere such as the surface pressure, lower atmosphere thermal stucture, and methane mixing ratio. Methods: We use high-resolution spectroscopic observations of gaseous methane, and a novel analysis of occultation light-curves. Results: We show that (i) Pluto's surface pressure is currently in the 6.5-24 microbar range (ii) the methane mixing ratio is 0.5+/-0.1 %, adequate to explain Pluto's inverted thermal structure and ~100 K upper atmosphere temperature (iii) a troposphere is not required by our data, but if present, it has a depth of at most 17 km, i.e. less than one pressure scale height; in this case methane is supersaturated in most of it. The atmospheric and bulk surface abundance of methane are strikingly similar, a possible consequence of the presence of a CH4-rich top surface layer.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            26 October 2015
            1510.07704 10.1126/science.aad1815

            http://arxiv.org/licenses/nonexclusive-distrib/1.0/

            Custom metadata
            Science, vol 350, 292, 2015
            8 pages - Initial Science paper from NASA's New Horizons Pluto Encounter
            astro-ph.EP

            Planetary astrophysics

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