back to article Pluto's emitting X-rays, and NASA doesn't quite know how

The Chandra space telescope has spotted X-rays emanating from Pluto. What? That's “cold, dead, former planet Pluto with no magnetic field”, to most of us: orbiting between 4.4 billion km and 7.4 billion km from the sun out in the Kuiper belt, with no way to generate heat. That Pluto. Since we don't suppose the former-planet …

  1. Filippo

    Mi-go nuclear reactor?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      My exact thought

      Somewhere, on an observation vessel's bridge in the shade of a dwarf planet in an obscure solar system way in the middle of nowhere in the Galaxy backwater: "OK, which retard forgot to turn on the additional shielding on the main reactor. So much for the cloaking technology, the locals have noticed us".

    2. Herby

      Re: Mi-go nuclear reactor??

      You never know. Maybe remnants of a death star from a galaxy far far away, a long time ago.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    WTF?

    1 word. Triboelectrification.

    Apparently a piece of sellotape being pulled from its backing in a vacuum chamber can release 15KeV X Rays.

    I have no f**king clue how that works but DARPA funded a project and it's apparently the basis of the SoA in hand held Xray flourescence metal analysers.

    So there are other ways to make Xrays (or if you're into chip lithography Xtreme UV) other than the classic than banging electrons into lumps of metal (AKA Coolidge Tube) and plasma's (which turn out to only be good for "soft" Xrays into the 100s of eV's.

    1. Doctor_Wibble
      Trollface

      Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

      > Triboelectrification.

      Nothing to do with x-rays, this is the word for what happens when those small furry creatures from star trek run around on a nylon carpet.

      1. x 7

        Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

        Is that a powered version of Tribadism?

        Some of those videos are x-rated

      2. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

        Tsk! Typical wooly thinking in this case Axminster.

        Tribbles are sessile. They cannot "run around".

        The static charge is obviously building up because of the trilling and purring.

        1. Doctor_Wibble
          Holmes

          Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

          > Tribbles are sessile. They cannot "run around".

          Wrong universe. These ones have legs.

          At an evolutionary level, they were fcked as a species and the results of that whole-species encounter was a cross-breed with tentacles that eventually developed into legs from the few that remained after they were nearly all abducted by aliens for use in dodgy holo-vids.

          P.S. 'trilling' on the other hand is an entirely consensual activity which I'm sure Dax would know all about.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

      I think the real problem here isn't about which mechanism is producing the x-rays but where the energy in those x-rays is coming from (in JS19's Sellotape example the energy in the x-rays originates in the kinetic energy required to pull the tape from whatever it's stuck to).

      The only obvious candidate is the solar wind but Pluto is both too small, and the intensity of the solar wind, at that distance from Sol, too weak for Pluto to intercept enough energy from the solar wind to account for the amount of energy observed in the x-rays.

      The ideas mentioned at the end of the article, for accounting for the discrepancy, amount to either increasing Pluto's effective cross-section, as far as capturing energy from the solar wind is concerned, or increasing the energy density of the solar wind in the vicinity of Pluto's orbit.

      1. Esme

        Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

        @LeeE - what about extra-solar sources? Could it be that Pluto is intecepting extra-solar extremely high energy gamma rays and re-emitting at a lower energy in the x-ray spectrum? In effect making Pluto a planetary-sized version of one of those unerground particle detectors we've built? (I frankly don't know quite enough to know whether that's feasible or not).

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

      Makes me wonder... just how Triboelectric is frozen solid nitrogen, or ice at those low temps?

      We've already seen that Pluto has active glaciers of nitrogen with mountain sized lumps of water ice 'floating' on them.

      Maybe colliding water ice chunks or stress fractures in the solid nitrogen might be generating the X-rays?

      1. Leeroy Silver badge

        Re: 1 word. Triboelectrification.

        Triboelectric charge, someone put dodgy toner in the aliens copier again...

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Alien

    Obvious really

    Something is decelerating really hard from relativistic speeds, and it thinks it's hiding from us behind Pluto...

    1. You aint sin me, roit
      Alien

      Re: Obvious really

      Or a wormhole has blinked out of existence shortly after disgorging a cloaked attack fleet.

      1. Hyper72

        Re: Obvious really

        > Or a wormhole has blinked out of existence shortly after disgorging a cloaked attack fleet.

        However, due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Obvious really

          ...a small planet named after a dog.

  4. Crisp Silver badge

    There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

    I do wonder sometimes what astrologers make of all these new discoveries in the solar system.

    1. Axman

      Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

      When the IAU demoted Pluto to dwarf planet status did they take into account the poor old astrologers (or rather, the extremely avant garde cultist section of astrologers who had managed to accept that there were more than five planets)? I bet they didn't.

      And while we're on the subject, I think they made a mistake with 'dwarf planet', midget planet surely!

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

        And while we're on the subject, I think they made a mistake with 'dwarf planet', midget planet surely!

        The Politically Correct backed up with SJW's would tell you it's a "little planet".

        1. Long John Brass Silver badge

          Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

          And while we're on the subject, I think they made a mistake with 'dwarf planet', midget planet surely!

          The Politically Correct backed up with SJW's would tell you it's a "little planet".

          Hey!

          That's Mr Mass Challenged Oblate Spheroid to you!

      2. Captain DaFt

        Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

        "And while we're on the subject, I think they made a mistake with 'dwarf planet', midget planet surely!"

        I whole-heartedly agree!

        Not a single one of the so called "Dwarf Planets" has a trace of anything resembling a beard! ☺

    2. PassiveSmoking

      Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

      The same thing they make of all other astronomical discoveries. Complete and utter random nonsense.

    3. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

      Oh I know it's all complete and utter nonsense. That's mostly because I'm a capricorn and we're a bit more skeptical than other signs.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

        Capricorns? Skeptical? I doubt that somehow. Show me the proof. Etc etc.

      2. Captain DaFt

        Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

        Well I'm an Ophiuchus*, and believe that no horoscope that leaves out signs can ever pretend to be accurate!**

        *Yes, it's really a horoscope sign. It was left out to avoid 'unlucky 13', and to keep the signs from changing months year to year.

        **Nah, I don't actually believe any of that mumbo-jumbo.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

      The astrologers are pissed to begin with the recent news that NASA says the astrological signs have all changed.or maybe they haven't but just did some math... http://www.sciencealert.com/stop-freaking-out-nasa-did-not-just-change-your-zodiac-sign

    5. Bibbit

      Re: There was nothing in my horoscope about this this morning.

      That's because Jonathan Cainer (ironic) died recently of a heart attack after (allegedly) snorting coke. Truly a warrior's death. Typical Leo.

  5. Alien Doctor 1.1

    Star Surgeon

    It's obviously the location of Dr Conways new hospital - so many broken bones to scan, especially after his tryst with Nurse Murchison.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Star Surgeon

      Upvoted for the Sector General reference!

    2. DNTP

      Re: Star Surgeon

      Now in true Sector General tradition, after hitting numerous dead ends the hero of the story will make a sudden correlation between two or three pieces of trivia revealed earlier in the story, and figure out that the extra radiation was coming from two radiation-eating life-forms with congenitally defective biological shielding sneaking off into the maintenance corridors to have sex.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Star Surgeon @DNTP

        This is the second James White Sector General reference in as many weeks.

        One of my school friends claimed that James was his uncle. Never found out whether it was true or not.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Someone over there didn't like being demoted to "dwarf" status...

    ...and are doing something about it. I suspect Rick is involved.

  7. GarethWright.com

    Emanating?

    X-Rays are not emanating from Pluto at all. Inaccuracy for the sake of a tag line

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Oops

    Turns out the triboelectrification produces the 10s of Kv but the actual emission methods is plain old electrons squirting at a metal target.

    The clever bit is that the rubbing 2 materials together process replaces the big, very heavy EHT PSU

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Turns out that despite my protestations Pluto isn't a planet after all.

    It's a Death Star and its planet-killer cannon is coming on-line.

    1. VinceH
      Alien

      Re: Bah!

      No, it's okay, what the Death Star wasn't was a moon - but Pluto? That's no moon...

      Oh.

      1. PhilBuk

        Re: Bah!

        The Death Star is Charon - Pluto is just the power supply.

        Phil.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          That power supply seems pretty dead. Another successful campaign by Galactic Greenpeace.

  10. Darryl

    I think the Plutans? Plutonians? Guys from Pluto finally heard that we had demoted them to non-planet status, and they're working on retribution.

  11. Chris G Silver badge

    Sooner or later

    One of these jokes about aliens hiding behind Pluto or dropping into this solar system and decloaking just before announcing ' All your Onion Bhajis are belong to us' or something like it, will turn out to be true and will signal the end of mankind on this planet ( Well,apart from onion bhaji chefs who will be needed to continue turning out the galaxy's prime source of Farterium an important ingredient in FTL fuel).

  12. Bibbit

    Look closer...

    Does the X-Ray pattern spell the words "Welcome to Yuggoth - have a nice day"?

    I for one welcome our new fungal overlords etc etc.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: Look closer...

      I for one welcome our new fungal overlords etc etc.

      Don't bring US presidency politics in this!

  13. the_stone

    God of the underworld is speaking...

    Pluto is now transiting Capricorn. Hence the financial distress/transformation.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: God of the underworld is speaking...

      It has more to do with central banking and dumbfuck politicians who should be burned at hastily erected stakes....

  14. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    The source is probably a small thermal exhaust port, only two meters wide, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system.

  15. jobst

    Superman.

  16. Sureo

    Pluto is really a derelict interstellar space ship stuck here, and all the inhabitants can do is generate some X-rays in the hope someone will eventually notice them.

  17. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Has anybody thought...

    ... to warn Micky?

  18. Sanctimonious Prick
    Coat

    Place Names

    "7.4 billion km from the sun..."

    I'm a dick. I thought it was call the Sun. Go figure.

    (green jacket hiding the green stuff)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. aliens

    Its just possible that the alien spaceship *might* be hiding behind Pluto doing repairs on its drive as X-ray emissions are one known side effect of a leaking primary intercoolant system.

    As we lack the technology to help out much (this assumes it is an experimental craft and lacks shuttles with more than a 5M km range) about all we can do is send them a signal wishing them luck.

    Disclaimer: I used to fix these back in '47 when they still used good old fashioned cryogenic superconductors on the drive pods not these new fangled quantum slipstream things which no-one fully understands but uses them anyway because they get 30,000,000,000N/kW and travel 0.5LY/hr.

    I wonder if they've detected the emissions from New Horizons? It can't be that far away by now, although traveling quite fast its possible they could do a free return trajectory and "borrow" its RTGs.

    1. AceRimmer1980
      Alien

      Re: I used to fix these

      Typical. Haynes do manuals for 5 different kinds of starship, but not for my car.

  20. Black Betty

    Some form of natural superconductor might be involved.

    Interesting that it appears on the cold pole.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some form of natural superconductor might be involved.

      Intriguing. Do you have a link to the paper please?

      I also noticed that under certain conditions laser light (specifically infrared at key wavelengths) which plausibly might be generated by an atmospheric maser-like effect could induce certain materials to superconduct at a higher temperature eg H3S.

      It could also be as simple as others have said as ice cracking under pressure causing triboelectricity, the process does not need a good vacuum at all.

      If lithium tantalate is involved there are any number of mechanisms of charge build-up causing ion beams which are detected as X-rays however the spectrum should reveal the mechanism.

  21. Lotaresco

    Forever War

    Isn't this about the decade in which Mr Haldeman expected there to be a training base with a nuclear reactor on Pluto Charon?

  22. Farnet

    Releasing Gas

    According to my wife I do my fair share, does that mean I also produce X-Rays.....

    I could be a new superhero....

  23. MT Field
    Alien

    We have partially decoded that message

    It looks ... it looks like a warning

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