The solar wind is diverted by Pluto, suggesting that, like some larger planets, the dwarf planet has a shield against the stream of energized particles emanating from the Sun.
Before NASA's New Horizons spacecraft visited the dwarf planet pictured in , most scientists thought that Pluto interacted with the solar wind in the same way as a comet does. Comets lack protection from the wind, which diffuses around the cometary surface.
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But in analysing data from the spacecraft, David McComas at Princeton University in New Jersey and his colleagues identified a 'Plutopause' — a region where Pluto's tenuous atmosphere shields the dwarf planet from the solar wind. The Plutopause is relatively small and well defined, much like the solar-wind boundaries around Mars and Venus.
Even though Pluto is small, it still exerts enough gravitational pull to keep its atmosphere sufficiently close to provide a buffer from the solar wind. To obtain permission to re-use content from this article visit RightsLink. By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines.
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