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The Lower Atmosphere of Pluto Revealed 109

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the they-should-buy-a-space-heater-haha-get-it-so-funny-blam-blam dept.
Matt_dk writes "Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have gained valuable new insights about the atmosphere of the dwarf planet Pluto. The scientists found unexpectedly large amounts of methane in the atmosphere, and also discovered that the atmosphere is hotter than the surface by about 40 degrees, although it still only reaches a frigid minus 180 degrees Celsius. These properties of Pluto's atmosphere may be due to the presence of pure methane patches or of a methane-rich layer covering the dwarf planet's surface."
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The Lower Atmosphere of Pluto Revealed

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  • by thhamm (764787) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:33AM (#27064065)
    cue the "methane" & "uranus" jokes.
  • ... concerning a celestial body whose public status has recently changed from "Boring Planet" to "Boring Dwarf Planet" after its 15 minutes of fame in the news. I guess now it's a "Less Boring Dwarf Planet".
    • Mostly (Score:4, Funny)

      by tverbeek (457094) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:40AM (#27064149) Homepage
      I've actually just transmitted an update to the article about Pluto in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It now reads "Mostly Boring."
    • by conureman (748753)

      Shades of Chesley Bonestell, nice image. What is that crescent shaped object visible in the artist's conception? A Death Star? I can't think of anything else that might be out there. Hmmph.

      • by Canazza (1428553) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @10:10AM (#27064561)

        um, Charon? [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by conureman (748753)

          By no strange coincidence 1978 was the year I put away the 4" Reflector and embarked on a futile quest to control my social ineptitude near desirable women. Guess I missed a few things.

          • by 4D6963 (933028)
            Well.. hopefully you got to uncover more moons than you could have with a telescope!
            • by conureman (748753)

              I never saw any of the other planet's moons, my clock drive was broken, that might've helped. Oh, right.. I'd say I did a lot better than I deserved, all things considered.

              • I'd say I did a lot better than I deserved, all things considered.

                There is your problem, according to what psychology knows nowadays.
                To get what you want, you first must believe it yourself. And in a way that makes even others believe it.

                If we're still talking about girls: There is no "deserving" in that area. That's only what you learned to be worth.
                Get an own system of values. Re-evaluate what you think about stuff. And then stop putting yourself below women.
                You are not lower or higher in value than they are. Even the most sexy girl is just a girl. And she can have huge

                • by conureman (748753)

                  Did I mention ineptitude? I don't have esteem issues, other than a realistic idea of the various impressions I give to the majority of people to whom I speak. Heck, I even have several friends. I was not completely unfortunate, genetically, and used to attract some favorable attention, until I'd engage in conversation. Did I mention ineptitude? It was the stuff of comedy. In the main, I learned to edit my choices of conversational topics, which works for short-term relationships ;). Anyway, if you've read m

                • by 4D6963 (933028)

                  Yep, it's kind of sad someone should think they're not as worthy as other men, mainly when the other men in question are like this [hotchicksw...hebags.com]!

                  Actually, the funny thing is, a lot of girls who are in a serious relationship with some of these douchebags have themselves self-esteem issues, and believe they already have more than they deserve, which is why they'll stay with the scrotewanks they've got.

                  Ah.. the discrepancies between what people perceive of themselves and what people actually perceive of them..

      • Live and learn.

      • plus , Don't forget Nix and Hydra . . .
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nix_(moon) [wikipedia.org]
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydra_(moon) [wikipedia.org]
        • Lots of moons for a little guy! So size doesn't matter.

          /me smiles at this joyous realization

          Not that I'm small or anything... no.

        • by conureman (748753)

          Imagine growing up on the Charon-facing side of Pluto. One might deduce from one's own empirical observation, within a lifespan of one or so "Pluto years", the nature of our orbital motions, &c. Kind of a beautiful picture in my mind.
          Why yes, I have been smoking something... But seriously, Pluto and Charon could communicate by semaphore.

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:36AM (#27064095)

    What's next, cold spots on Venus (i.e. cold enough that lead is almost solid again)?

    • There are cold spots on my wife . . .
  • Fuel (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So Pluto could be a useful fuel source when mankind starts to explore outside the solar system. I wonder in how many years/decades time this will be.

    Tim

  • These properties of Pluto's atmosphere may be due to the presence of pure methane patches or of a methane-rich layer covering the dwarf planet's surface."

    These properties may also be do to the presence of sheep on Pluto.

    • These properties may also be do to the presence of sheep on Pluto.

      Wouldn't it be more likely due to fleas on Pluto?

  • So, scientists discover that pluto smells like butt.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      methane doesn't smell of anything. its the other stuff such as SO2 that causes farts to smell.

      if methane smelt bad we wouldn't have to add thiols(really stinky molecules) to mains gas to detect leaks.

  • by orkybash (1013349) <tim.bocekNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @10:15AM (#27064633)
    "new insights about the atmosphere of the dwarf planet Pluto"

    Aww, come on, you guys are just rubbing it in now!
  • So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FlyByPC (841016) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @10:17AM (#27064665) Homepage
    Given that it has both a moon and an atmosphere, are they going to admit that it's a planet (albeit a weird one) -- or do we let the definition become so strict that soon nothing qualifies as a planet anymore?
    • Eris (Score:4, Informative)

      by corsec67 (627446) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @10:24AM (#27064779) Homepage Journal

      If Pluto gets called a planet, then Eris [wikipedia.org] would also be called a planet, since it is bigger than Pluto. Otherwise "Planet" would be a very arbitrary definition.

      • Re:Eris (Score:5, Funny)

        by mysticgoat (582871) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @11:42AM (#27065849) Homepage Journal

        Eris should be called a planet.

        If you don't invite her to the party, there will be hell to pay.

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          Come on, be fair: Eris is so gracious that she gives out lovely golden apples even when she's not invited to the party.

          • I tip my hat to you; a more excellent reply. (The most excellent reply will of course go to that which is the fairest of them all.)

            I've only now just noticed the kallistei references in the Disney rendition of Snow White. That is most interesting. Were the the Disney artists followers of the Sacred Chao? That would explain a few things.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nazlfrag (1035012)

        It's not the size, its the shape and clearing of orbit. If we drop the clearing orbit and Pluto and Eris are in the club, so should be Ceres, Makemake and Haumea at least. I would like them all to go back to planet status, but it's unlikely. It's all the fault of Eris anyway, they wouldn't have reclassified poor Pluto if she was a little slimmer.

        Pluto will always remain a planet to me. I'll start calling it a dwarf planet around the time I call 2^10 bytes a kibibyte or when hell freezes over, whichever come

      • If Pluto gets called a planet, then Eris would also be called a planet, since it is bigger than Pluto. Otherwise "Planet" would be a very arbitrary definition.

        But the deeper point is that, given our knowledge of astronomy, pretty much any definition of "planet" is arbitrary.

        There's tons of stuff moving around in space, at all sorts of sizes, shapes, physical compositions, distributions of matter, trajectories, etc. They're trying to draw a line such that space-stuff on one side of the line count as "plan

        • by gomiam (587421)

          No matter how carefully and precisely they draw the line, it is still hopelessly arbitrary: why draw the line here and not there?

          Because drawing the line "here" (as in Pluto not being a planet because it hasn't cleared its orbit of debris, among other things) makes it much easier to decide than drawing the line "there" (as in "we found this big spheroid and we decided it was a planet, and now we know there are many things around the same size or bigger, but we don't want to turn back").

          • Because drawing the line "here" (as in Pluto not being a planet because it hasn't cleared its orbit of debris, among other things) makes it much easier to decide than drawing the line "there" (as in "we found this big spheroid and we decided it was a planet, and now we know there are many things around the same size or bigger, but we don't want to turn back").

            This begs the question of why draw any line at all. Nature doesn't draw a line between planets and non-planets; why should scientists be so gung-ho o

            • by gomiam (587421)

              This begs the question of why draw any line at all. Nature doesn't draw a line between planets and non-planets; why should scientists be so gung-ho on drawing one?

              Simplicity: either there's a clear distinction between the Kuiper Belt objects and the planets or there isn't. If there isn't, then we will have to contend with so many planets it's not even funny. It's much simpler to drop just one planet and get some clear criteria on the side.

              You should remember that not everything in science is prediction models: there are lots of categories that make talking about everything much simpler. According to your "laws of physics" argument, why should we even bothe

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Canazza (1428553)

      "A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity but has not cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite."

      By this definition, Neptune isn't a planet, it's a dwarf planet, because it hasn't cleared Pluto out of it's neighbouring region...

    • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wooferhound (546132) <tim@@@wooferhound...com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @11:18AM (#27065547) Homepage
      Earth will Always be a planet and all other space objects will be compared against it.
      If we get too picky then Earth will be the Only planet as nothing else will fit the description of Earth.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by GreenCow (201973)

        This is why we have different categories of planets.

        Earth is the only Class M planet in the solar system.

        Of course, with terraforming, Mars might join us in that someday.

        Looking through: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_M_planet

        It seems like pluto should be a class K, or possibly a class D.

    • I would think that a planet could be defined as having a regular orbit, with only slight variance. "Slight" of course being subjective, but by no definition would Pluto's eccentricity be considered slight.

      Also, it might be required to be in the orbital plane, but that would require at least two other planetary bodies.

  • It's been 'terraformed' in line with Yuggoth.
  • Cowabunga (Score:1, Troll)

    by flyingfsck (986395)

    Well, obviously there must be super cool space cows living on Pluto - if we have to believe that all hydrocarbons are the result of organic life - and not the other way around.

    It sounds like we really need to start working on reversing the anthropogenic global warming of Pluto.

  • wouldn't methane at -180C be in liquid form? (boiling point is -161C)
    • Re:liquid methane (Score:5, Informative)

      by jschen (1249578) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @10:58AM (#27065269)
      The boiling point depends on the atmospheric pressure. Boiling points are typically reported based on sea level on Earth. With a much lower atmospheric pressure on Pluto, boiling points will drop.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      wouldn't methane at -180C be in liquid form? (boiling point is -161C)

      What makes you think the pressure on Pluto is the same as on Earth? I would assume the pressure even at the surface is close to zero.

    • by XSpud (801834)
      As other replies have stated it depends on the pressure and at about 0.15 atm or less, it will be a gas at this temperature.

      However, the triple-point of methane is at about 0.1 atm which means that methane cannot exist in liquid form anyway given the very low atmospheric pressure on Pluto (1/100,000 atm or less). If you reduce the temperature by just a few degrees the gaseous methane will deposit as a solid, without passing through the liquid phase and in fact, solid methane is found on the surface of pl
  • Gee, the solar system is filled methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. If we are to say that were are going to a natural universe, then, if anything is a pollutant, it is our planet's low CO2 and low methane atmosphere.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      Not to mention all the sulfuric acid, which is keeping Venus's atmosphere so fresh and healthy. For instance, asthma is completely nonexistent on Venus!

      We were doing a nice job increasing sulfur content of Earths atmosphere, until those tree-hugger wackos got sulfur emissions severely restricted... And now they're trying to do it to CO2 as well! They must be stopped!

  • It must be dwarf cows! Herds of tiny bovines roam Pluto's surface. It takes seven of them to make the galaxy's most expensive burger.

  • We prefer to be called a "gravitational mass challenged planet", you insensitive clod!
  • I wonder how how much of whatever the New Horizons probe finds during it's Pluto fly-by in 2015 will already be known by then, when you take the ever improving optics and other remote viewing technology into account.
  • The presence of methane on Mars is considered a strong indicator of some form of current life there.

    http://www.universetoday.com/2004/03/30/whats-creating-the-methane-life-or-volcanoes/ [universetoday.com]

    While there are natural processes that can produce it, it decays quickly and so it is more likely that an organism is providing consistent replenishment.

    However, I don't think anyone expects that Pluto would be able to support life--too too cold. Is there some explanation for natural forming, and natural persisting, on Pluto

    • However, I don't think anyone expects that Pluto would be able to support life--too too cold.

      Why make assumptions? 'Extremeophiles' are found damn near everywhere. Bactiera surviving on equipment left on the Moon for years, entire ecosystems around deep-water volcanos that everybody knows could never exist due to a) extreme temperature, and b) lack of sunlight...

  • And we won't be able to see the surface with the flyby in 2015?
  • Before this surprise methane discovery, Pluto was thought to be more like an icy version of our moon - something like the asteroid Ceres or Neptune's moon Triton. Now, it may be that Pluto has more in common with Saturn's moon Titan, which has a thick atmosphere of methane with a distinct orange hue. If Pluto were closer to the sun it might have a thicker atmosphere, it may even have a 'summer atompshere' as that methane goes from liquid to gas as it gets closer to the sun.

    Pluto Express, due to arrive in 2

  • I suspect the heat in the atmosphere is caused by the Putonians burning the abundant methane to keep warm.
  • I'm Your Moon
    - Jonathan Coulton

    They invented a reason
    That's why it stings
    They don't think you matter
    Because you don't have pretty rings
    I keep telling you I don't care
    I keep saying there's one thing they can't change

    I'm your moon
    You're my moon
    We go round and round
    From out here, it's the rest of the world that looks so small
    Promise me
    You will always remember who you are

    Let them shuffle the numbers
    Watch them come and go
    We're the ones who are out here
    Out past the edge of what they know
    We can only be who we are
    I

The world is no nursery. - Sigmund Freud

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