LPL Colloquium: Dr. Fran Bagenal

Pluto - The Pugnacious Planet

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 3:45pm to 4:45pm
Kuiper Space Sciences: Room 312

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.

Host: Dr. Caitlin Griffith