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NAM2011 Presentation Details

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Discovery of Carbon Monoxide in the Upper Atmosphere of Pluto

Author: Jane Greaves

University of St Andrews

Co-Authors: Ch. Helling (University of St Andrews); P. Friberg (Joint Astronomy Centre)

Session: RAD: Radio window on the solar system

Presentation type: Talk


Only one molecule, methane, has ever been detected in Pluto's thin and fragile atmosphere. Carbon monoxide is also expected, sourced from evaporation of surface ice, and acting as the key coolant. Using the JCMT in 2009/10, we detected the millimetre-wave CO 2-1 rotational transition, at a brightness requiring that the gas extends into the cold upper atmosphere, as high as three Pluto radii above the surface. Compared to an upper limit from 2000, the line-centre signal is at least twice as bright. This implies the atmosphere has significantly altered in composition or size over only a decade, in a striking example of extraterrestrial climate change.

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