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NASA's Mission to Pluto--Exploration and Discovery at the Edge of the Planetary System
Wednesday, November 02, 2016 - 3:30pm PDT
N232, Room 227
The first planetary mission to Pluto by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has revealed an astonishingly diverse system consisting of a binary planet and four tiny irregular satellites. Pluto and Charon have icy surfaces with at least five kinds of ice identified so far. Pluto's thin atmosphere supports at least 20 layers of photochemical haze, and the planet's surface exhibits a vast range of geological structures both ancient and modern. Billion-year-old craters show strata in their walls suggesting chemical processing of ices in the earliest history, while nitrogen-ice glaciers slowly move downhill to pond in a great basin larger than Texas. Convection in this great frozen ocean of nitrogen produces a moving surface that is continually refreshed on million-year timescales. All this and much more show the great diversity of Pluto and its satellites, and portend similar exciting discoveries as the exploration of the Solar System by robotic spacecraft extends the frontiers of knowledge deeper and deeper into space.