Thursday, April 21, 2011

Carbon monoxide found in Pluto's air

After nearly two decades of searching, astronomers have detected carbon monoxide in Pluto’s thin atmosphere, as they expected. But they didn’t expect to find so much of it. Pluto's dramatic seasonal changes serve as further evidence that the dwarf planet is one surprising little bugger.

"Everything about Pluto is surprising," Jane Greaves, an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, told me. Greaves presented the new results today at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Wales.

Five years ago, Pluto was at the center of a controversy over the definition of planethood — which resulted in the creation of the dwarf-planet category, a new class of celestial objects. More recent observations have pointed up still more peculiarities about Pluto. For example, scientists have found that the faraway world's surface features are changing, that its atmosphere contains clouds, and that it might even harbor a pool of liquid beneath its icy shell.

Pluto's thin atmosphere, which was previously known to contain nitrogen and methane, is thought to freeze out and rise up as the world traces its eccentric orbit around the sun. Traces of frozen carbon monoxide have been detected on Pluto's surface, which led astronomers to assume that carbon monoxide gas should be found in the atmosphere as well.

via Cosmic Log - Carbon monoxide found in Pluto's air.

No comments: