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Pluto’s atmosphere is expanding, and scientists don’t know why.
Pluto travels along a highly elliptical path and last passed closest to the sun in 1989. Many planetary scientists expected the atmosphere to shrink as the icy orb began receding from the sun’s warmth. The unanticipated expansion may be related to changes in the darkness of the orb’s surface a decade or so ago, which may have caused the surface ices to absorb more solar radiation and more efficiently evaporate. Or, Greaves suggests, long-term variations in the sun’s ultraviolet output, changes linked to the roughly 11-year cycle of solar activity, may be playing a role.