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Season Event

Galileo's Science Café

The New Horizons Mission to the Pluto-Charon Double Planet, and Beyond by Dr. Michael Summers

  • March 2, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Gregory Family Theater

The New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to the Pluto/Charon system on July 14, 2015. The entire world watched on TV, radio, and social media, as the flyby occurred. There has not been such public interest in space exploration since perhaps the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s. The Pluto encounter was the capstone of an ambitious vision, begun by NASA 50 year ago, to explore the solar system with robotic spacecraft.

The observations and especially the images of Pluto and Charon returned by New Horizons were astonishing, and gave us some extraordinary surprises.  Those surprises included a gigantic glacier, presumably made of nitrogen, methane, and possibly other ices, at Pluto's equator.  Another was the apparently "fresh" nature of the surfaces of both Pluto and Charon implying geological "young" ages for these objects.  And yet another surprise was the global haze layer seen after the spacecraft's closest approach and when it was looking back at Pluto. The atmosphere, backlit by the sun, gave Pluto a "halo" appearance.

Most importantly, the information from the encounter has opened up completely new questions about how planets form and evolve. In this talk I will review the latest results from the New Horizons mission and discuss what we can expect as the New Horizons spacecraft travels onward to its next flyby of another Dwarf Ice Planet.

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