Pluto interacts with the solar wind in such a way that it makes it behave more like an actual planet, according to a New Horizons’ instrument called Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP). When the dwarf planet’s atmosphere interacts with charged particles streaming out from the sun, the resulting world’s behavior is something scientists have never seen before anywhere in the solar system.
The dwarf planet stopped being considered as a real planet in 2006 but researchers involved in New Horizon investigations say Pluto behaves less like a comet and more like Venus or Mars. The instrument’s findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics.
Prior to this study, it had been thought Pluto had more comet-like characteristics because it gently slowed down solar wind over a large region while real planets abruptly diverted it.
SWAP measured this interaction during New Horizon’s trip through the Plutonian system in July 2015. The instrument’s observations revealed a more hybrid comet/planet behavior and study lead author David J. McComas, who teaches astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, described the results as “astonishing”.
New Horizons Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) Observations of the Solar Wind From 11-33 AU https://t.co/wHI7K0zXq9
— Space Weather (@spaceweather) January 27, 2016
The insight that amazed scientists the most was that Pluto is able to keep a gravitational grasp on a large part of its ‘fragile’ atmosphere while the solar wind strips ions away into a long tail, according to a report by Discovery News.
New Horizon’s lead investigator Alan Stern praised human efforts to reach new places in order to find entirely new manifestations of nature in the Universe, Discovery News reported. He is based at the Southwest Research Institute.
Stronger than thought
Other arguments scientists used to say Pluto was not a planet were related to its size and distance from the sun. The now considered as a hybrid planet is about 3.7 billion miles (5.9 km) away and because of its size the scientific community thought it was unable to hold heavy ions in its atmosphere.
“Pluto’s gravity clearly is enough to keep material sufficiently confined,” McComas emphasized.
Because its interaction with the solar wind is so unique and diverse, the study author said he and his colleagues could have a better understanding of the connections in and beyond our solar system.
Source: Discovery News