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Pluto's Atmosphere Is Eternal

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#1 ILikePluto

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Posted 30 September 2013 - 08:21 AM

New observations suggest the small world's air never vanishes

by Ken Croswell

Although billions of kilometers from the Sun, frigid Pluto has an Earthly air: an atmosphere made mostly of nitrogen, the same gas that constitutes 78 percent of the air we breathe. But Pluto pursues such an elliptical orbit around the Sun that all of that gas might freeze onto its surface when farthest and coldest. On May 4, however, Pluto passed in front of a star in the constellation Sagittarius, allowing observers to watch the atmosphere block some of the star's light and deduce that the air is so substantial it never disappears.

Full story at Scientific American.

#2 starbux

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Posted 30 September 2013 - 12:04 PM

Of course, the first (and so far only) comment was "I wish it was still a planet".

Some people are hung up on symbolism and semantics. That a multimillion dollar probe (ostensibly) just for Pluto is on its way isn't enough for many people.

I look forward to the flyby.

#3 Rick Woods

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Posted 30 September 2013 - 12:04 PM

Interesting - thanks!

#4 ILikePluto

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Posted 30 September 2013 - 12:26 PM

Of course, the first (and so far only) comment was "I wish it was still a planet".


It still is.

From the article:

Both Olkin and Stansberry do agree on a far more famous controversy: Pluto is a planet. In 2005 astronomers discovered Eris, a distant world proclaimed to be larger than Pluto, adding to arguments that Pluto should lose its planetary status and prompting predictions that a plethora of worlds surpassing Pluto in size awaited discovery.

But things didn't work out that way. In 2010 Eris passed in front of a star and failed to live up to the hype. The short duration of the occultation revealed Eris to be just 2,326 kilometers across—versus about 2,350 kilometers for Pluto. And no one has ever found anything else orbiting the sun beyond Neptune's path exceeding Pluto’s size.

#5 Qwickdraw

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Posted 30 September 2013 - 02:38 PM

Never say never

#6 GregLee1

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Posted 30 September 2013 - 03:03 PM

Some people are hung up on symbolism and semantics. That a multimillion dollar probe (ostensibly) just for Pluto is on its way isn't enough for many people.

Isn't enough what? Isn't enough money? What does the cost of the probe have to do with whether Pluto is called a planet?

#7 seryddwr

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Posted 01 October 2013 - 04:32 PM

The founder of my astronomy graduate program was Clyde Tombaugh. I also spent a fair bit of time, during my teenage years, studying the history of Lowell Observatory. The whole demotion of Pluto is kind of a sore spot with me.

#8 choran

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Posted 01 October 2013 - 07:53 PM

Demoting Pluto always seemed to me to be an idle act. What were they actually trying to accomplish?

#9 Rick Woods

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Posted 02 October 2013 - 10:01 AM

I always got the idea that there was a small group that had it in for Pluto as a planet due to its KBO status, and opportunistically pushed through that "demotion" as a small power play at the end of the IAU session. Very petty, and silly too since the new classifications are stupid.

#10 Rudra

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Posted 02 October 2013 - 12:38 PM

Someone had said during the time of Pluto's official demotion from a "Planet" to a "Dwarf Planet" and it goes like this "Had we lived on Jupiter, we would have said there are only four classical planets and the rest is all debris."

#11 llanitedave

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Posted 02 October 2013 - 07:47 PM

It's all debris anyway. The ancients had a definition of planet that was useful. Until the IAU shenanigans, scientists had a definition that was useful, if a bit nonrigorous. Now, anytime somebody needs to refer to planets in a useful way, they use some other definition than the IAU's.

#12 turtle86

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Posted 02 October 2013 - 10:45 PM

Geez, Pluto has an atmosphere, is spherical, and has several moons to boot. Sure sounds like a planet to me. It's not like the IAU is some sort of Astro Supreme Court whose arbitrary definition of a planet has the force of law.

#13 Mister T

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Posted 03 October 2013 - 06:37 AM

You can call Pluto a planet if you want.

You can call Pluto a KBO.

You can call a screwdriver a phillips head.

You can call a screw driver a manually operated fully slotted fiber intrusive rotary fastener application facilitator...

#14 llanitedave

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Posted 03 October 2013 - 11:13 AM

You can call a gear planetary.

#15 Rick Woods

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Posted 03 October 2013 - 11:52 AM

Just don't call me late for dinner...

#16 Mister T

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 06:02 AM

If you are Pluto, you are ruler of the underworld! :mrevil:

or a cartoon dog.

either way you don't care how puny Earthlings classify you... :beat:






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