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J. L. Elliot (MIT), M. Buie (Lowell), M. J. Person, S. Qu (MIT)
The KAO light curve for the 1988 stellar occultation by Pluto exhibits a sharp drop just below half light, but above this level the light curve is consistent with that of an isothermal atmosphere (T = 105 ± 8 K, with N2 as its major constituent). The sharp drop in the light curve has been interpreted as being caused by: (i) a haze layer, (ii) a large thermal gradient, or (iii) some combination of these two. Modeling Pluto's atmosphere with a haze layer yields a normal optical depth \ge 0.145 (Elliot & Young 1992, AJ 103, 991). On the other hand, if Pluto's atmosphere is assumed to be clear, the occultation light curve can be inverted with a new method that avoids the large-body approximations. Inversion of the KAO light curve with this method yields an upper isothermal part, followed by a sharp thermal gradient that reaches a maximum magnitude of -3.9 ± 0.6 K km-1 at the end of the inversion (r = 1206 ± 10 km). Even though we do not yet understand the cause of the sharp drop, the KAO light curve can be used as a benchmark for examining subsequent Pluto occultation light curves to determine whether Pluto's atmospheric structure has changed since 1988. As an example, the Mamiña light curve for the 2002 July 20 Pluto occultation of P126A was compared with the KAO light curve by Buie et al. (this conference), who concluded that Pluto's atmospheric structure has changed significantly since 1988. Further analysis and additional light curves from this and subsequent occultations (e.g. 2002 August 21) will allow us to elucidate the nature of these changes. This work was supported, in part, by grants from NASA (NAG5-9008 and NAG5-10444) and NSF (AST-0073447).
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 34, #3< br> © 2002. The American Astronomical Soceity.