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Shocker: Pluto Has Gotten Redder, Warmer

From a discreetly context-free Associated Press:

Hubble sees Pluto changing color, ice sheet cover

By Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer Thu Feb 4

WASHINGTON – Spurned Pluto is changing its looks, donning more rouge in its complexion and altering its iceball surface here and there.

Color astronomers surprised.

Newly released Hubble Space Telescope photos show the distant one-time planet — demoted to "dwarf planet" status in 2006 — is changing color and its ice sheets are shifting.

The photos, released by NASA Thursday, paint a Pluto that is significantly redder than it had been for the past several decades. To the layman, it has a yellow-orange hue, but astronomers say it has about 20 percent more red than it used to have.

The pictures show icy frozen nitrogen on Pluto’s surface growing and shrinking, brightening in the north and darkening in the south.

Let’s hope that this report of shrinking ice is based on more than just a college paper and some WWF propaganda.

Astronomers say Pluto’s surface is changing more than the surfaces of other bodies in the solar system. That’s unexpected because a season lasts 120 years in some regions of Pluto.

Especially since, as far as we know, there are no SUVs or coal burning power plants on Pluto.

"It’s a little bit of a surprise to see these changes happening so big and so fast," said astronomer Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. "This is unprecedented."

From 1954 to 2000, Pluto didn’t change in color when it was photographed from Earth. But after that, it did. The red levels increased by 20 percent, maybe up to 30 percent, and stabilized from about 2000 to 2002, Buie said. It’s not as red as Mars, however, Buie said.

So Pluto’s climate has been changed quite radically in the past few years, but is now stabilizing? It seems to us we have heard that song before.

Of course sun spots and solar flares cannot have anything to do with this.

Buie said he can explain the redness, but not why it changed so dramatically and so recently. The planet has a lot of methane, which contains carbon and hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen gets stripped off by solar winds and other factors, leaving carbon-rich areas on the surface, which tend to be red and dark.

Wait a minute. It does seem like the sun is a factor, after all.

The Hubble photos were taken in 2002 and the analysis took a few years. But why Pluto changed so quickly was such a mystery that Buie held off for years on announcing what he had found, worried that he might be wrong. However, since Pluto’s moon Charon hadn’t changed color in the same telescope images, he decided the Pluto findings weren’t an instrument mistake.

So Mr. Charon hid the decline — or rather, the incline. Was he afraid that evidence of ‘climate change’ on Pluto would undercut the argument for man-made ‘climate change’ on Earth?

His analysis also found that nitrogen ice was shifting in size and density in surprising ways. It’s horribly cold on Pluto with, paradoxically, the bright spots being the coldest at about -382 degrees Fahrenheit. Astronomers are still arguing about the temperatures of the warm dark spots, which Buie believes may be 30 degrees warmer than the darker areas

Notice the various contortions that the AP has gone through to keep from saying that Pluto has gotten warmer.

But that would appear to be what has happened, if Pluto has gotten redder and darker, and the redder and darker spots are 30 degrees warmer.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, February 5th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

27 Responses to “Shocker: Pluto Has Gotten Redder, Warmer”

  1. richb says:

    > Especially since, as far as we know, there are no SUVs or coal burning power plants on Pluto.

    Ah, but that doesn’t matter, as there are SUVs and coal burning power plants on Earth. Pluto is being victimized by second-hand global warming, an effect which has propaganda possibilites similar to those attributed to second-hand smoking.

  2. GetBackJack says:

    Dammit … more of that fake Rush Limbaugh ‘science’.


  3. proreason says:

    And now we know why there is temporary cooling on earth.

    As liberals know, every system is closed. For example, every dollar that a rich man earns is a dollar stolen from it’s rightful owner, a poor man.

    So, as Pluto warms, something must cool. The answer is obvious, the Earth must cool. The computer models I am working on will prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    This theory has been peer reviewed and is settled science..

    • JohnMG says:

      What we need is a President that will press for a re-distribution of temperatures.

      I mean, it’s the only fair thing to do

    • proreason says:

      John, you are onto something with your temperature redistribution policy.

      Just speaking for myself, I didn’t choose the climate I live in. It was forced on me. One might say that people in Hawaii, for example, have an unnatural and unjust advantage because their climate is better than mine.

      As I think about this, it becomes clear that I merit some substantial compensation for my bad climate. I think it even explains why I was an unruly child and why I am now a racist, a sexist, and a homophobe. All of these afflictions are the fault of the climate, not my own self.

      The only way the pain and suffering I have had to endure because of my climate can be rectified is through reparations. And I also think I should be admitted to Harvard with free tuition, given good grades while I get high, be appointed to be president of something and have somebody else write books about my experiences so I can make more money.

    • Steve says:

      What an excellent line of argument you guys have come up with.

      Temperature justice now!

  4. NoNeoCommies says:

    Oh my God!
    Our pollution is escaping into our orbital path and increasing the effects of the sun on poor little (no longer a planet) Pluto!
    How can we live with ourselves?
    BTW, this also explains why Mars is warming too.

    • JohnMG says:

      It’s too early to panic. We don’t have all the facts. Maybe we’re talking about a dog and not a part of the solar system. One theory makes as much sense as the other.

      Cooler heads should prevail. Unlike the Boy Scouts, all we lack is adult leadership.

  5. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Within my amateur astronomy studies, I have often read that Pluto’s highly eccentric orbit is erratic and nearly impossible to define with rgularity.

    Its orbit (one Pluto year) is 248 earth years. It crosses Neptune’s orbit with regularity and although its classification as a planet was removed, it changes places with Neptune as the 8th and 9th objects orbiting the Sun on a regular basis, due to Pluto’s elongated orbit.

    It is also approaching the point in its orbit where it will be at its closest to the Sun. Hence the warming. I’m surprised the astronomers are surprised.

    Due also to adaptive optics, astronomers are now able to get the clearest possible views of Pluto ever. Not that they are any great shakes, mind you, but the increases in sensitivity certainly have something to do with it.

    But in 2006, the New Horizon space project was sent to study the solar system and will reach Pluto in 2015. The reason it was launched in 2006 was because Pluto will be at its closest and its “summer” could be better studied. Astronomers believe that it’s white surface in its “winter” time is frozen methane. When it warms up, the methane becomes gaseous and gives Pluto a nominal atmosphere while also exposing the terrain underneath.. But since its discovery in the 1930, Pluto has always been brighter than it is now due to the reflectivity of the methane ice. It hasn’t been this close to the Sun since about 1769.

    I truly doubt that any astronomer worth their salt is truly surprised that it’s getting redder. The eccentric, highly elliptic orbit of Pluto is well known yet no one really knew much about Pluto itself due to lack of suitable equipment. But it is getting closer to the Sun, therefore warming up. The average grade-schooler knows this.

  6. wapiti307 says:

    Pluto—perhaps that is where all the climate change environuts hail from? They’d better find a way to get back there and crusade for climate change on their home planet (or planetoid)!

  7. GL0120 says:

    Absolutely amazing!
    Algore was right, he just got his planets mixed up.
    Just like if John Edwards were to channel the wrong unborn baby.

  8. canary says:

    Maybe the change in high-tech equipment changed Pluto’s color, since there is no explanation of how they know the season lasts 120 years. What did they use 120 years ago? and 120 years before that, and 120 years before that, etc.

    oooh. I get it. On a 24/7 365 a year, for millions of years they’ve shined an radio-active thingy on Pluto to study it, and the global warmers are destroying the planet every second that goes by. tick tick tick Save Pluto

    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      Cindy Sheehan camps out at Dick Cheney’s house with signs demanding him to lay off Pluto.

    • Rip Cord says:

      It takes Pluto 240 years to revolve around the Sun one time. They are making guesses as to the length of the seasons.

    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      And was discovered in 1930, soooo…we have been collectively observing Pluto for 80 years or, 1/3 of a Plutonian year. And, the adaptive optics that allow us a better picture of the thing, along with the Hubble space Telescope, have only been around a fraction of THAT amount of time.

    • canary says:

      Rusty, thank you for explaining better what I was trying to say.

  9. wirenut says:

    Being temperature challenged from an early age, and both parents hopelessly addicted to …”fossil fuels”. I wandered aimlessly though life. Getting a job here to pay for heat or starting a fire there, to stay warm. I had no idea some people live in a no pay-for-heat zone. Outrageous!
    Well it’s time to go with JMG. and PRO. Time to stick-it to the man! Go Snowbirds, Go Temperature Justice League!

  10. Reality Bytes says:

    I found this clip of Pluto getting hot. Thought you’d want to see it.


    • MinnesotaRush says:

      Now THAT’S the Pluto I’m most familiar with!

      And you’re right, RB .. he’s gettin’ hot. (Thought I saw a liitle red there in his cheeks, too).

    • Reality Bytes says:

      If scientists really should figure out is what the heck is Goofy supposed to be!

    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      deleted, no added value to the discussion


  11. laurele says:

    Pluto is not a “one time planet.” It is a planet. Please do not blindly accept the controversial demotion of Pluto, which was done by only four percent of the International Astronomical Union, most of whom are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet. At the very least, you should note that there is an ongoing debate rather than portraying one side as fact when it is only one interpretation of fact.

    As a dynamic world with geology and weather, Pluto shows it has more in common with the other, bigger planets than it does with most Kuiper Belt Objects except the few large ones, which should be considered planets too. Most KBOs in Pluto’s orbital path are tiny and do not have these features. These images show that before making definitive classifications, we should first get the data and analyze it; otherwise, we are defining objects without knowing significant factors about them.

    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      Great stuff.

      I don’t think anyone here is debating the planet-status of Pluto. The banter in this group is more likely that scientists of a certain ilk are trying to connect the dots between Pluto getting warmer with Anthropogenic Global Warming here on Earth. And though I tend to respect astronomers and astro-physicists more than I do “climatologists”, there are still those who prefer to think that Earth is going to turn into Venus because “we simply produce too much CO2”.

      But the way the article is written is somehow slanted in a way that indicates hiding data to achieve a desired result (and political influence) is accepted behavior.

      But why Pluto changed so quickly was such a mystery that Buie held off for years on announcing what he had found, worried that he might be wrong. However, since Pluto’s moon Charon hadn’t changed color in the same telescope images, he decided the Pluto findings weren’t an instrument mistake.

      In scientific study, such behavior is against the whole point. A real scientist must accept the data whether they like it or not. Although the motive may be different, presenting data as you find it is necessary for the whole group to study….whereas keeping it to yourself, for whatever reason, is not ethical.

      But I don’t believe anyone here is debating the status of Pluto as planet or not.

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