Friday, February 05, 2010

Pluto Changing Color?!

From Yahoo News comes an article from Tim Sayell that tells about some weird goings on with the surface of Pluto. Recent photos taken of the dwarf planet, by the Hubble Space Telescope, show a dramatic shift towards the red end of the spectrum on Pluto's surface.

Hubble photos show frozen nitrogen on Pluto's surface growing and shrinking, brightening in the north and darkening in the south.
  • Astronomers say Pluto's surface is changing more than the surfaces of other bodies in the solar system.
Unprecedented and surprising are words used to describe the changes, especially on a surface that has seasons lasting as long as 120 years.

From 1954 to 2000, photographs of Pluto did not change. Then in the next 2 years there was up to a 30% increase in red coloration. Scientist can explain the redness, just not why it changed so quickly. From the article:
  • 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.
  • Part of the difficulty in figuring out what is going on with Pluto is that it takes the dwarf planet 248 years to circle the sun, so astronomers don't know what conditions are like when it's is farthest from the sun. The last time Pluto was at its farthest point was in 1870, which was decades before Pluto was discovered.
complete article

No comments: