Feeds

Pluto's blushing complexion riddle solved by boffins

Hubble spectrograph shines light on dwarf planet's colouring

The essential guide to IT transformation

Boffins using the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) on the Hubble telescope have figured out what makes Pluto the colour it is.

The South West Research Institute's eggheads discovered a strong ultraviolet-wavelength absorber on the dwarf planet's surface, which suggests that there are complex hydrocarbon and nitrile molecules strewn on the ground.

The molecules could be produced by sunlight or cosmic rays interacting with the ices on Pluto, which are made of methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.

"This is an exciting finding because complex Plutonian hydrocarbons and other molecules that could be responsible for the ultraviolet spectral features we found with Hubble may, among other things, be responsible for giving Pluto its ruddy colour," project leader Alan Stern said.

"The discovery reminds us that even more exciting discoveries about Pluto's composition and surface evolution are likely to be in store when NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrives at Pluto in 2015," he added.

Hubble image of Pluto

Hubble image of Pluto from February 2010. Credit: NASA/ESA/M. Buie/Southwest Research Institute

The South West Research Institute study of the dwarf planet's surface was published in the journal IOPScience.

The New Horizons craft, launched in 2006, is about halfway between Earth and Pluto and is expected to fly by the dwarf planet and its moons in July 2015. The vehicle is the fastest ever launched, bombing through the galaxy at around 36,000 miles an hour in order to cover the three-billion-mile journey to Pluto.

The COS was installed on Hubble during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009, making it a relatively new addition to the telescope's scientific armoury. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?