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Image released by NASA in Oct. 2015 shows a haze surrounding Pluto. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto's thick hazy atmosphere may be responsible for its temperature of -203ºC, according to a study published this week in Nature.

How it works: Hydrocarbon particles created in chemical reactions in Pluto's upper atmosphere group together as they fall toward the surface and are "transformed into thick layers of haze," Alexandra Witze writes in Nature. Haze doesn't block light from the the sun, but it is able to cool down and heat up the atmosphere.

Why it matters: Leslie Young, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, told Nature it's important to understand Pluto's atmosphere in order to work out what might be happening on other icy planets.

  • Another view: There are other ideas about why Pluto's atmosphere is so cold, including a combination of hydrogen cyanide, acetylene, and ethane gas. The haze model could be tested with observations from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is now scheduled to launch in 2019.

Go deeper

13 mins ago - Podcasts

Bob Nelsen on AstraZeneca and his plan to revolutionize biotech

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday reported promising efficacy data for their COVID-19 vaccine, which has less stringent storage requirements than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and may be distributed earlier in developing countries.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of vaccine and therapeutics manufacturing with Bob Nelsen, a successful biotech investor who on Monday launched Resilience, a giant new pharma production platform that he believes will prepare America for its next major health challenges.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Updated 20 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Unpacking Joe Biden's decision to tap John Kerry as his climate envoy

Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is naming former Secretary of State John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for climate change.

Why it matters: The transition team's announcement sought to show that it will be an influential role, noting that Kerry — a former Massachusetts senator and the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee — will be on the National Security Council.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries

Waiting, in New Delhi. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

While the 95% efficacy rates for the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are great news for the U.S. and Europe, Monday's announcement from Oxford and AstraZeneca may be far more significant for the rest of the world.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca plan to distribute their vaccine at cost (around $3-4 per dose), and have already committed to providing over 1 billion doses to the developing world. The price tags are higher for the Pfizer ($20) and Moderna ($32-37) vaccines.