Winter in coming to Pluto: It's atmosphere could be destroyed forever this season

Scientists observing Pluto for 28 years think its atmosphere will collapse from the growing pressure.

Winter is coming to Pluto. And the Long Night on the non-planet could go on forever, scientists think.

Pluto's takes 248 Earth years to complete one rotation around the Sun. Thought it doesn't have the same weather patterns as Earth, Pluto still experiences four seasons. Winter on Pluto is just a decade away, expected to start in 2030. When it does arrive, the nitrogen-heavy atmosphere could collapse entirely and fall, turning into a layer of solid frost, a new study has suggested.

This dramatic shift may happen since the atmospheric pressure on the planet has nearly tripled from 1988 to 2016.

A team of scientists have been observing the planet for 28 years, collecting data across eight countries. Their observations have been published in a new study in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Winter in coming to Pluto: Its atmosphere could be destroyed forever this season

Pluto, representative image. Image credit: Flickr

The team made the claim after studying data from eleven passes that Pluto makes in front of a star between 2002 and 2016. There are known as stellar occultations and can tell researchers a lot about the atmosphere of a faraway planet – its density, pressure, and temperature to name a few.

If Pluto's nitrogen-, carbon monoxide- and methane-rich atmosphere does collapse, it will be because the high atmospheric pressure would condense out the gases gradually till almost nothing is left of the thin gas-blanket.

The researchers think that by 2030, the atmosphere will "frost out" and simply vanish from around Pluto.

And while that doesn't affect life on Earth in any way, it may give us a better chance at the spotting it. Pluto will appear brighter without an atmosphere to dim the light reaching us from the planet. Not only will it reflect more light, but the researchers think its trademark red hue will also look a more faded than it does now.

The study was published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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