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Space Science

Researchers Model Pluto's Atmosphere, Find 225 Mph Winds 77

MatthewVD writes "Pluto may have been downgraded to a dwarf planet, but researchers modeling its wisp of an atmosphere continue to find that it is a surprisingly complex world, particularly when it comes to weather patterns. Howling winds that sweep clockwise around the planet at up to 225 mph — though the atmosphere is so thin, it would only feel like 1 mph on Earth. The algorithms used to model the atmosphere will be helpful in studying far more complex atmospheres, like Earth's."
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Researchers Model Pluto's Atmosphere, Find 225 Mph Winds

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  • You would still be blown all over the place because of the lack of gravity, it just takes a bit longer to accelerate to speed.

    • by Tyr07 ( 2300912 )

      Assuming you're not touching anything which would create resistance, and that the direction of the wind doesn't change, causing constant force, and that the air didn't cause any friction ever..

    • Re:Gravity (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @11:43AM (#39857905)

      We don't lack gravity, the Earth just has more...

      THE DETAILS ARE NOT IMPORTANT [basicinstructions.net]

    • Re:Gravity (Score:5, Informative)

      by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @11:44AM (#39857911)

      You would still be blown all over the place because of the lack of gravity, it just takes a bit longer to accelerate to speed.

      Its only about a 20th not zero.

      To a ridiculously crude first approximation, if the force of the wind is equivalent to 1 MPH at earth STP, then factoring in gravity it would be like being in a 20 MPH wind on earth WRT to being tipped over. However you'd have the same inertia you have on earth, so there wouldn't be much tumbling around due to gusts.

  • So no longer worthy of research, declassifying Pluto as a planet was supposed to make life easier so people can focus their energy on other things
    • I can't tell if you're parodying peoples' unfounded concerns over what the reclassification of Pluto would mean or not. It's Poe's Law for Pluto.

    • Once the government figured all this wind speeding too far away to tax, Pluto got plutoed.
  • by Lucas123 ( 935744 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @11:45AM (#39857927) Homepage
    We should set up wind mill farms on Pluto, thereby avoiding the problem of adding to global warming and ruining the view of wealthy people who live on Cape Cod. Now, how to solve the electrical conduit problem...
    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      Easy. Great big Tesla coils. You could put them right on top of the windmills on Pluto, and I believe there would be some upcoming vacant lots where windfarms used to be on Cape Cod that would make a perfect spot for the receiving towers. As a bonus, they'll get full time security lighting for their McMansions, so what's not to like!
      • by Anonymous Coward

        The windfarms were planned for, but not yet built, a couple of miles OFF THE COAST of Cape Cod, so those "vacant lots" would be a little damp, and the McMansions would have to float.

        But other than that, your post... no wait, you're still an idiot.

        • The last thing you want to do in the middle of the night is run into something in a boat. The boat goes down. Yeah, the wind generators would be lit, but so would the boaters ramming them in their miniyachts. The Coasties likely have more important things to do than clean up their mess.
        • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
          I detect a slight "whoosh". OK, I was kind of joking since the practicalities of interplanetary tesla coil transmission render the idea moot, but not so much about the illumination aspect. Tesla coils give off quite a lot of it - here's a clip [youtube.com] of a 1MV one. If you were to stick a bunch of these out on the former windfarm towers, scaled up to receive from Pluto, I doubt the residents of Cape Cod would be having much in the way of nighttime while they were active. Or most of the other inhabitants of New E
    • It's not a planet so you can't get any grants or loans for those windmills. ;)

      You see Pluto is not a planet because of consensus among scientists that it's not a planet. I've yet to see solid proof it's not a planet and there is a dearth of peer reviewed articles which show it's not a planet. It is also very difficult to get these consensual scientists to release the raw data that lead to their consensual conclusion that Pluto is not a planet.

      I say we rid ourselves of these consensual scientists so that Plu

  • by Troyusrex ( 2446430 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @11:45AM (#39857937)
    So a computer program said there'd be 225MPH winds? Until it can be verified whether these winds exist or not all it tells us is someone built a model that predicts this. Without verification of the hypotheses the science isn't complete enough to draw any solid conclusions.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This can easily be verified using the red shift of photospectroscopic measurements of the atmosphere and comparing the edge that is rotating towards us against the edge that is rotating away from us. There should be a visible difference in the red shift of the spectral lines and the distance between them will give you the delta-V - divide by 2 and you have the absolute average windspeed. This should be fairly easy to do.
      • This should be fairly easy to do.

        In theory, but not in practice, because in our very best images of Pluto the entire thing is only a few pixels wide, making the edge of the atmosphere visible over the limbs very-very-very-sub-pixel. It's also an extremely thin atmosphere that will be virtually undetectable compared to the body of the planet, and 400 mph relative speed is a tiny amount of ref shift to detect in such a low-amplitude signal.

        So it's certainly possible, but I wouldn't expect this hypothesis to be confirmed very soon. Maybe JW

    • This. Climate modelling is a science in it's infancy; we don't even have very good models for Earth's atmosphere, and we've got huge amounts of data on it. Since we've got, comparatively speaking, essentially no information on Pluto's atmosphere, I wouldn't expect any simulations of it to have any degree of accuracy. Indeed, it's rather unlikely the simulations will do more then superficially resemble the known observational data, and that only because the modelling team would've tweaked the model until
    • So what you're saying is the whole thing is overblown?

    • Clearly Galileo should have just shut the hell up until he built a spaceship, flew into space, directly observed the sun being in the middle of the solar system, and returned to Earth with all his data.

      Or maybe predictions without precise data can produce valuable data. Nah, it's gotta be the first one
    • Which hypothisis are you talking about? This is a prediction that flows directly from the application of basic physical and chemical 'laws', not all that different to numerical wind tunnels. I'm guessing the reason they made the prediction now is it will probably be tested by New Horizons in a few years time. Making a correct prediction after we know the answer is much less impressive.
  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @11:50AM (#39858015) Homepage Journal
    Hmm, rocky outcroppings, howling winds... throw in a horde of pillaging vikings and a volcano or two, and you've got the perfect setting for a heavy metal music video!
  • Those winds would be much faster than the surface orbital velocity of Pluto, something is not right here.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The surface orbital velocity of Pluto is 1900 mph (850 m/s).

  • Pluto Closest Approach In:
    1168 Days
    20 Hours
    07 Min
    41 Sec

    Then you'll have your answer.

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html [nasa.gov]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It makes me a little crazy that they didn't make this mission an orbiter. No more flybys! Time for us to grow up. Orbiters, landers, and rovers should be the new norm.

      • by SpryGuy ( 206254 )

        To orbit such a small body that far away, you either have to approach much more slowly (meaning it wouldn't get there in your lifetime), or you have to bring a TON of fuel with you, and hope you can slow down enough to be caught by Pluto's meek gravity, with near pin-point accuracy of orbital insertion.

        They choose to get there fast. The fly-by will be very fast, the encounter time very short, and they had to plan a lot so that pictures wouldn't be blurry, but at least we'll see results sooner than 50 years

  • Geez, sounds like a crappy place to go vacationing...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, just imagine the wind chill index...
      What would that be, 3 Kelvin?

  • The model is two-dimensional (latitude and height), so it does not model three-dimensional complexities. Still, it's the first work of a fascinating subject -- all the more fascinating because Pluto is moving away from the Sun, and its atmosphere is due to freeze solid in a few years. Adding that complicating feature to the atmospheric models should keep a generation of graduate students employed.

  • With winds that high, and no gravity, you'd think the surface would erode to nothing and dissipate into space. I call BS.

  • Howling winds that sweep clockwise around the planet at up to 225 mph — though the atmosphere is so thin, it would only feel like 1 mph hour on Earth.

    I have a feeling you wouldn't hear much of anything if the atmosphere was so thin that you could barely feel a "225 mph wind"

  • That blows.

  • 225 MPH winds on Pluto? Now we know what makes the Spaghetti Monster fly!
  • Wind speeds are meaningless at the density of atmosphere on Pluto (or even Neptune, for that matter).

    Airspeeds could be thousands of miles an hour, and there would still be no appreciable effect of friction. Indeed, that is part of the reason airspeeds are so fast to begin with.

  • Seriously, 225 mph farts from a dog are really not worthy of modelling... Trust me on this.
  • So someone thinks they can model the wind speed on Pluto? Right.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.