LPL Colloquium: Dr. Fran Bagenal
Pluto - The Pugnacious Planet
University of Colorado
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past the Pluto system on 14th July 2015. Even in our wildest dreams none of us on the New Horizons team really expected Pluto to produce such riches: water ice mountains as big as the Rocky Mountains, glaciers of nitrogen ice, black hydrocarbons covering aging craters, fresh methane frost dusting tops of mountains, pitted landscapes shaped by sublimation, an ice volcano as big as Mauna Kea, and, most bizarre of all, a landscape that resembles the skin of a snake. My favorite image is a glance back, outbound from the flyby, looking at an icy landscape back-lit by layers of atmospheric hazes. In this talk I describe how New Horizons came to be, how the spacecraft got to Pluto, and how the findings are challenging our understanding of ice worlds in the outer solar system. A surprisingly low rate of atmospheric escape explains why Pluto is more like Mars than a comet.