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Researchers Model Pluto's Atmosphere, Find 225 Mph Winds

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the go-model-a-kite dept.

Space 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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Gravity (1)

ameen.ross (2498000) | more than 2 years ago | (#39857797)

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.

Re:Gravity (1)

Tyr07 (2300912) | more than 2 years ago | (#39857891)

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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39859649)

No, No and Woosh.
The reduced gravity would reduce the normal force which would reduce the friction on the surface you are touching. And to be blown "all over the place" you would in fact require the wind to change direction. And the wind moves object precisely because of the air friction.
I do doubt the air friction (given the low density of the atmosphere) would be enough to blow you around even considering the gravitational field stregth--and thus the force of friction for a similar mass on a similar horizontal surface--is about 1/12 of earths.

Re:Gravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39861517)

And the wind moves object precisely because of the air friction.

Ah yes, that would explain why my teflon-treated pans don't move about as much when they're on the line...

Re:Gravity (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39857905)

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

THE DETAILS ARE NOT IMPORTANT [basicinstructions.net]

Re:Gravity (1)

6ULDV8 (226100) | more than 2 years ago | (#39860911)

You saying we're fat?

Re:Gravity (5, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Gravity (1)

ameen.ross (2498000) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865959)

Ah, I'd have thought that the gravitational field was even weaker.

Models of models of models (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39857873)

So, we're using the methodolgy that is insufficient to model the earth's atmosphere, to model an object that we cannot test directly, and claim it will help understand the complex systems?

I applaud the attempt at creating a more complete guess about the nature of a distant planet (full or dwarf), but without a way to test the predictions, this has very little use in refining the models.

Re:Models of models of models (4, Insightful)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858057)

So, we're using the methodolgy that is insufficient to model the earth's atmosphere, to model an object that we cannot test directly, and claim it will help understand the complex systems?

Yeah, let's wait until we have all the variables in place before carrying a modeling experiment </rolls eyes>

I applaud

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backhanded_compliment [wikipedia.org]

the attempt at creating a more complete guess about the nature of a distant planet (full or dwarf), but without a way to test the predictions, this has very little use in refining the models.

Geee, I wonder what those scientists of old (not so old) were thinking when they formulated things like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics at a time when it was impossible test the predictions </more rolling eyes>

Re:Models of models of models (1, Funny)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858715)

Unless you've got a really good optometrist, I'd just roll rubber balls.

Re:Models of models of models (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39861501)

Geee, I wonder what those scientists of old (not so old) were thinking when they formulated things like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics at a time when it was impossible test the predictions </more rolling eyes>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle [wikipedia.org]

Re:Models of models of models (1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#39867207)

Geee, I wonder what those scientists of old (not so old) were thinking when they formulated things like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics at a time when it was impossible test the predictions </more rolling eyes>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle [wikipedia.org]

Ok, let's try again. Gee I wonder what Heisenberg was thinking when he formulated that principle, he had no way to test it. Moreover, what the scientists preceding this were thinking when they were formulating and building quantum theory?

Re:Models of models of models (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39864739)

Do you realize how stupid it makes you look when you try to make a statement by linking to a WIkipedia article? Would you do something like that face-to-face? Would you get out your smartphone and look up the article really fast and shove it in their face as a rebuttal?

Re:Models of models of models (1)

sco08y (615665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39866371)

Do you realize how stupid it makes you look when you try to make a statement by linking to a WIkipedia article?

Exactly what a backhanded compliment is is not contentious as it's pop culture, so a tertiary source is fine.

Would you do something like that face-to-face? Would you get out your smartphone and look up the article really fast and shove it in their face as a rebuttal?

If I said, "Have you ever heard of a backhanded compliment" face to face, a person can answer, "no, as a matter of fact I haven't."

In a forum like /., it makes more sense to account for the fact (which they remind us of at every conceivable opportunity) that some people aren't familiar with American pop culture since you can't respond right away.

Or the GP just did it to be sarcastic, which would fit with the rolling eyes thing.

Re:Models of models of models (1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#39867291)

Do you realize how stupid it makes you look when you try to make a statement by linking to a WIkipedia article?

Because that link to that specific topic is completely devoid of truth. Screw it and deem it unworthy in an elementary-school level generalizing fashion!!(10+1) Web nazis of the world, unite!!!

Would you do something like that face-to-face?

I'm not sure how you could link to a web page face to face. I thought that you needed a computer with internet access to link.

Oh wait, you are trying e-bravado, e-macho posturing. Oh I see, let me reply to you then. I could say yes, but how you would know if I say the truth. I could say no, but why would that matter? After all, the venue of your choice (which happens to be in common to mine for this topic) is the internet. So it is a bit childish (if not stupid) to ask whether a poster will say something face-to-face when you yourself are posting that question on that same venue... and as a AC to boot.

Would you get out your smartphone and look up the article really fast and shove it in their face as a rebuttal?

I might, just to highlight the stupidity of the statement I'm replying to. Why spell it out to a crowd of (supposedly) geeks who at times pride themselves of using tokens of lacedemonian brevity such as RTFA, FTFY, PEBCAK and the like?

Moreover, whether I reply face to face, or whip my smartphone with the wiki article, does it change the applicability of the remark in question?

BTW, don't worry answering the last question. It is purely rhetorical.

Re:Models of models of models (1)

SirAdelaide (1432553) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865473)

We all know models are never a perfect description of reality. And it is well known that models are usually wrong, but some are useful [blogspot.com.au] .
But more importantly is the World Bank's comment that

'Models are useful even when their results are not entirely correct because they facilitate communication' World Bank HEF Techniccal Report 1, June 2010 [worldbank.org]

because as you can see, the model is generating discussion. If the model is wrong, it is still the first step towards making a better model.

Not even a real planet! (1)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 2 years ago | (#39857919)

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

Re:Not even a real planet! (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858369)

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.

Re:Not even a real planet! (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858697)

Once the government figured all this wind speeding too far away to tax, Pluto got plutoed.

Two birds with one stone (3, Funny)

Lucas123 (935744) | more than 2 years ago | (#39857927)

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...

Re:Two birds with one stone (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858033)

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!

Re:Two birds with one stone (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858491)

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.

Re:Two birds with one stone (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39859591)

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.

Re:Two birds with one stone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39861945)

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.

They're just as likely to run into another miniyacht if they're honestly aren't paying attention.

Re:Two birds with one stone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39859867)

The McMansions will be floating before their current mortgages are ever paid off, don't worry.

Re:Two birds with one stone (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863975)

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 England for that matter...

Re:Two birds with one stone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39860001)

Fuck using the electricity on earth! With a low intensity gravity well, we could use pluto as a good "last gas station until Proxima Centauri"! Since electricity is a poor rocket fuel (for now?) we could just use it to transform the Pluto soil/rock into something useful. Now we just need to land some mining-oriented rover and a wind-powered chemical factory on the pseudo-planet...

Re:Two birds with one stone (1)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865051)

Sedna, Quaor and Eris are all well beyond Pluto's orbit.

Re:Two birds with one stoned (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863425)

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 Pluto can again be a planet and we can get the grants and use that wind for a good purpose. We have a very good electrical conduit, an artificial astronomical terawatt microwave laser that can pump the entire output of those wind mills in a pulse lasting less than a second. We'd just need to catch that here on Earth and it's all gravy.

Only good for testing the model (4, Insightful)

Troyusrex (2446430) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Only good for testing the model (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858039)

Why do we care?

Re:Only good for testing the model (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858089)

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.

Re:Only good for testing the model (2)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858267)

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 JWST could do it?

Re:Only good for testing the model (2)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858641)

New Horizons spacecraft which will zip past Pluto in 2015 should help. I would not hold your breath on the JWST answering this question any time soon.

Re:Only good for testing the model (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39859559)

LOL, I can't believe I forgot about New Horizons.

Re:Only good for testing the model (1)

SpryGuy (206254) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862029)

It won't be too long before any atmosphere just freezes solid and falls to the surface. Then, for a very long time (longer than most of our remaining lifetimes I think), this whole issue will be moot.

Re:Only good for testing the model (1)

Endovior (2450520) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858371)

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 it at least did that much. That is, after all, how you go about building climate models; which can be kind of okay for explaining the past, but isn't anywhere near good enough to predict the future just yet.

That said, these guys have at least taken their models, and then gone forward from that to make a fairly bold experimental prediction. Kudos to them for doing that much... now, if future observations confirm their predictions, that'll amount to a fairly serious triumph for the nascent field.

climate denier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858413)

So you are one of those climate deniers are you?

Re:Only good for testing the model (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858517)

that's about ~362 km/h

Re:Only good for testing the model (1)

EnsilZah (575600) | more than 2 years ago | (#39859791)

So what you're saying is the whole thing is overblown?

Re:Only good for testing the model (2)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862699)

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

Re:Only good for testing the model (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863275)

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.

METAL (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858015)

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!

Re:METAL (1)

damien_kane (519267) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858549)

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!

Just in time for Season 4 [diefordethklok.org]

Re:METAL (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862731)

If you wanted a music video with suffocated and frozen people

Re:METAL (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39869455)

Sounds pretty metal to me!

Too fast (0)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858017)

Those winds would be much faster than the surface orbital velocity of Pluto, something is not right here.

Re:Too fast (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858519)

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

Re:Too fast (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39860053)

You're right, I forgot a few zeroes.

Waiting for verifiction - (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858051)

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]

Re:Waiting for verifiction - roxy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39860279)

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.

Re:Waiting for verifiction - roxy (2)

SpryGuy (206254) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862063)

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 from now. Also, this probe almost didn't get the green light... having to slow down to orbit would have increased the cost and the risk enough that it probably woudl have been canceled outright.

Not saying I don't agree with your wishes, just pointing out the reality of the situation here, and why it's not doing that.

225 MPH winds? (1)

bbbaldie (935205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858085)

Geez, sounds like a crappy place to go vacationing...

Re:225 MPH winds? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858391)

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

Re:225 MPH winds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39861071)

Really? Sounds like the perfect place to get away from everything here on Earth.

MPH? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858131)

Too bad they're using the Imperial system on Pluto.

Re:MPH? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858679)

Welcome to an American website. Enjoy your stay.

Re:MPH? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39867669)

I'll leave this place like the rest already seems to have done, login doesn't work for me anymore anyway.

The scientists used the metric system so there's still hope, but not for the story writer.

You're late (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39859163)

I had to scroll past more than 10 top level posts before I found the first obligatory message bitching about units.

Next time, stay on the ball.

A good first step on an interesting road (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858187)

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.

Erosion? (1)

mj1856 (589031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858273)

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

Re:Erosion? (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858897)

and no gravity

What makes you think Pluto has no gravity?

Re:Erosion? (1)

SpryGuy (206254) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862073)

So what exactly is the escape velocity of Pluto? Anyone know?

Re:Erosion? (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862657)

So what exactly is the escape velocity of Pluto? Anyone know?

1229m/s according to wikipedia.

Howling winds (1)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858275)

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"

It have to be said (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39858359)

That blows.

Re:It have to be said (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | more than 2 years ago | (#39864325)

Pluto has nothing on Uranus.

ATMOSPHERE?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858703)

when the hell did Pluto get an atmosphere?? I always thought it was a frozen rock way out past the orbit of Neptune that's too small to hold an atmosphere.

New Horizons soon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39858947)

Soon (2015) the new horizons probe will beam back the first pictures of the surface of Pluto. I am excited! We will, for the first time in human history, know what the surface of that world looks like. From the few tantalising hints we have, we know that the surface is colourful (type Pluto into Wikipedia). We know little else.

The only thing that ruins the mission for me slightly is that the probe carries on it thousands of messages from bebo users. I console myself by saying 'at least it's not reddit', which helps somewhat.

Revelation (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39859423)

225 MPH winds on Pluto? Now we know what makes the Spaghetti Monster fly!

Air in a gnat's fart all the air on Pluto (1)

BenJeremy (181303) | more than 2 years ago | (#39859653)

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.

You ever owned a windy dog? (0)

Aphrika (756248) | more than 2 years ago | (#39861505)

Seriously, 225 mph farts from a dog are really not worthy of modelling... Trust me on this.

People can't even predict weather on earth (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862143)

So someone thinks they can model the wind speed on Pluto? Right.

yet another one: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39863259)

Yet another group that thinks:

Howling winds that sweep clockwise around the planet at up to 225 mph

Means something. I guess we have to presume that they mean referenced from the "top" of the planet too.

Clockwise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39867263)

Relative to what?

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