“…We’ve just detected, for the first time, X-rays coming from an object in our Kuiper Belt…” Researchers have detected that low-energy X-Rays are coming from Pluto, this –in theory—should not be happening. However, for the first time ever, scientists have detected signals coming from the dwarf planet.
With the help of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, experts have managed to spot low-energy X-Rays coming from Pluto on four different occasions.
The X-Rays were spotted as the New Horizons spacecraft made its ways towards Pluto between February of 12014 and August of 2015. The discovery itself left researchers shocked since it was beloved that the planet had NO NATURAL mechanism that allowed it to emit X-Rays.
“We’ve just detected, for the first time, X-rays coming from an object in our Kuiper Belt, and learned that Pluto is interacting with the solar wind in an unexpected and energetic fashion,” said Carey Lisse, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, who led the Chandra observation team with APL colleague and New Horizons Co-Investigator Ralph McNutt. “We can expect other large Kuiper Belt objects to be doing the same.”
So what’s up with Pluto?
Experts believe that the largest of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt emit X-Rays due to the interactions between the solar wind and Pluto’s atmosphere, just as gasses around comets are known to create X-Rays as well.
However, the X-Rays detected by NASA’s Chandra observatory are much greater than anticipated.
“Before our observations, scientists thought it was highly unlikely that we’d detect X-rays from Pluto, causing a strong debate as to whether Chandra should observe it at all,” said co-author Scott Wolk, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “Prior to Pluto, the most distant solar system body with detected X-ray emission was Saturn’s rings and disk.”
This means that the Atmosphere Pluto has is far more stable and complex than a comet-like atmosphere which expert’s thought they’d find on Pluto as well.
In fact, experts found that Pluto’s interaction with the solar wind is not as much as that of a comet, but more like what’s being observed on our neighboring planet, Mars.
This has led experts to propose different theories including one that suggests that that the tail of gasses that ‘trails’ Pluto –which according to reports is longer than the planet itself— could be the one to blame.