Friday, 13 November 2015

GUEST POST! Dr. Mike Goldsmith on the new Pluto data, Part 1: Worlds of Weird!

My good friend Dr Mike, my go to Scientist, has recently written a book on the new Pluto data - and to get you thoroughly interested, here is a selection of strange Pluto factoids for you to be puzzled by!  Link to his book here.

Worlds of Weird

Life on Pluto? Not something that has hit the headlines, but the recent discovery of ice volcanoes, which implies an underground ocean of some kind, makes it as plausible there as on (or in) Jupiter's moon Europa, or Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Though anything alive is unlikely ever to venture onto Pluto's surface, the possibility of Plutonians did make me think : given how strange Pluto seems to us, what would Earth seem like to a Plutonian? So here are the top ten weird Earth experiences for a visitor from Pluto :

1. Hot. The coldest midwinter midnight in Antarctica is far hotter than the noonday heat of Plutonian midsummer. And on Pluto, how hot you are depends on what you're standing on : the air is too thin, and the Sun too dim, to affect you. On Earth, ground temperature makes hardly a difference.

2. Bright. Midsummer noon on Pluto is like early twilight on Earth, and the idea that Earth creatures can't even look directly at the Sun must be baffling.

3. Windy. Any kind of wind on Pluto is both weak and rare. Like Earth, Pluto has prevailing winds, but these are very feeble indeed - and they blow upwards, as the summer Sun evaporates the ice fields.

4. Fast. On Earth, life is speedy. Days rush by six times faster, chemical reactions happen in a flash, and objects hit the ground almost as soon as they are dropped : drop a cup on Pluto, and it takes about two seconds to fall.

5. Moon. Earth's moon isn't just tiny (less than a fifth the size of Charon, Pluto's main moon), it moves slowly across the heavens. Charon remains perpetually fixed in place in the sky.

6. Sky. Earth's daytime sky looks pretty much the same in all directions, and the fact that the stars can't be seen through it - despite the fact that it is transparent - would be very hard for a Plutonian to understand. On Pluto, the sky is forever black and star-studded when you look upwards, and blue above the horizon.

7. Water. Trying to explain to a Plutonian what a liquid is would be almost impossible. How can something that spreads sideways endlessly not spread upwards and thin out to nothing? What does "flow" even mean? How can you put your hand into an object (like a puddle)? When you take your hand out again, why is there no hole? 

8. Metals. Almost as weird as water. There are no metals on Pluto, while on Earth they are all over the place. Without them, there are no magnets and electricity can't flow either. Not can radio waves be produced. All these things would be alien to a Plutonian.

9. Green. Absolutely nothing on Pluto is green; red, yellow and grey is the palette that paints the land, while the horizon is a ring of blue. Yet on many parts of Earth, this unknown colour is to be seen all around.

10. Seasons. Unless a Plutonian stayed on Earth's equator, (s)he would experience seasonal changes within a few weeks of arrival, over two hundred times faster than the seasons change on Pluto.
Take any other pair of worlds, and one can play the same game of weird. Until late last century, the only worlds we had to explore were the nine planets and their moons. Now we know that Pluto is just one of many other cold worlds beyond Neptune. Maybe they are stranger still. 

Mike Goldsmith
(more Pluto news, blogs and pix at


This is Part 1 of 2 - next week hopefully, there will be more Pluto information!! :-)

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