IRAS Serendipitous Survey Observations of Pluto and Charon

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Science  11 Sep 1987:
Vol. 237, Issue 4820, pp. 1336-1340
DOI: 10.1126/science.237.4820.1336


On 16 August 1983 the Infrared Astronomical Satellite made two separate pointed observations of Pluto and its moon Charon. Because of the small angular displacement of the system between the times of measurement, the Pluto-Charon system was identified as a source in the Serendipitous Survey (SSC 14029+0518). Detections were made at 60 and 100 micrometers with color-corrected flux densities of 581 ± 58 and 721 ± 123 millijanskys, respectively. Pluto is best described as having a dark equatorial band, and brighter polar caps of methane ice extending to ±45° latitude, at most. An upper limit of approximately 9 meter-amagats is placed on the column abundance of a methane atmosphere on Pluto, which is comparable to recent upper limits based on independent ground-based spectroscopy.