Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Today is Tuesday- this must be Pluto.

While the oil patch wants to lionize astronauts as credible additons to the ranks of climate denial, corn and cattle country Congressmen can't throttle NASA's budget to defuse the climate policy debate without damaging space exploration as well. Like climate satellites, space probes only work if mission control is still in business when deep space instuments and cameras get to their distant destinations.

Two Bastile Day's and another few hundred million miles hence NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will start snapping pics of Nix, Styx , Charon and the rest of Pluto's orbiting entourage as whips past en route to the Kuiper Belt - the cloud of seriously cold planetesmals surrounding the more familiar disc of the solar system.  Not many people have noticed the probe's long outward bound career since it left Jupiter behnd in 2007after returning spectacular views of Europa's erupting sulfur volcano Tvashtar.

Although it's cold outside, and there's no kind of atmosphere, Pluto's northern hemisphere weather has been warming as its pole precesses towards the sun,  creating enough of a heat wave ( if you call half the 77 degree Kelvin temperature of liquid nitrogen heat )  to erode its surface film of solid nitrogen frost and expose the solar wind blasted stuff beneath.

Whatever the surface may be - think radiation crosslinked  tarry polymers, nbsorbs more sunlight than the frozen gas-frost that has begun its spring migration, and in consequence , Pluto is getting redder as the probe approaches, in a faint hearted way mirroring the albedo shift in progress on Earth as warming erodes  pallid Arctic sea ice to expose the deep blue sea beneath.

The moral to be expected from the forthcoming photographic interviewwith the least warm planet in the inner solar system ( yes,  planet- I am as skeptical of the IAU's semantic agression as Heartland Institute's) is that radiative equilibrium is a universal feature of planetary physics - you can't avoid albedo forcing by fleeing to the outer limits of the solar system, let alone hiding behind a cloud of rhetoric on Earth, where the  increasing warmth outside signifies some kind of atmospheric mischief in progress.