Pluto has become one of our most favorite bodies in the solar system, perhaps gaining increased appreciation after it was demoted from a full-sized planet to dwarf planet in 2006 and thus decreasing our solar system planet count to eight planets. A significant portion of Pluto’s mass is icy material and so it is often referred to as an ice dwarf. The New Horizons mission is helping us understand how the ‘ice dwarfs’ have evolved over time.
The New Horizons Mission, which launched January 19, 2006, is the first mission to the Pluto system and Kuiper Belt. It conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby to study Pluto and its moons. On July 14, 2015 it reached the closest approach to Pluto. NASA hopes to extend the mission and send the spacecraft farther into the Kuiper Belt to study more icy worlds.
The Science, Technology, and Business Division’s final program for the year will take us to the Kuiper Belt and feature the darling of our solar system, the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons. Astrophysicist Dr. Dennis Reuter will highlight some of the first close-up images of Pluto from the New Horizons mission in the illustrated lecture “New Horizons: Journey to Pluto and Beyond” on Tuesday, December 8 from 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m. in the Pickford Theater of the James Madison Building. These high-resolution images tell incredible stories and have created much excitement in the scientific community and with the public.
Dr. Reuter is co-investigator on the New Horizons Mission and instrument scientist for the Ralph color imager and infrared (composition mapping) spectrometer on New Horizons. Ralph will help us learn about the surface geology and morphology of the Pluto system, as well as provide surface composition and temperature maps.
This program is part of the 2015 series of lectures presented through a partnership between our division and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. We are happy to report that this is the ninth year that the Library has been partnering with Goddard.
For more information about the history of Pluto see our Everyday Mystery “Why is Pluto no Longer a Planet?”