Mankind's first close-up look at Pluto did not disappoint Wednesday: The pictures showed ice mountains on Pluto about as high as the Rockies and chasms on its big moon Charon that appear six times deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Especially astonishing to scientists was the total absence of impact craters in a zoom-in shot of one rugged slice of Pluto. They said that suggests that Pluto is geologically active even now and is being sculpted not by collisions with cosmic debris but by its internal heat.
Planetary scientists with Flagstaff ties speak to KNAU from Laurel, Maryland during the Pluto flyby. From left to right: Simon Porter, Will Grundy, Marc Buie, Cathy Olkin, and W. Lowell Putnam, IV, the great-grandnephew of Percival Lowell.
When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto yesterday, KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny was patched into mission operations in Maryland. She was talking to some of the Flagstaff scientists who were there to celebrate the big event. It was a reunion for past and present planetary scientists of Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered 85 years ago.
Tomorrow NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest approach to Pluto and collect the first-ever close-up images of the dwarf planet. In Flagstaff, where Pluto was discovered, scientists will be waiting to analyze those photographs and other data. But they’re not the only ones. Artists are creating their own interpretations of Pluto, and they’ll use New Horizons for inspiration.
After nine years of interplanetary travel, the New Horizons Spacecraft today begins its first observations of Pluto. It will be the first exploration of its kind of the dwarf planet. As Arizona Public Radio’s Justin Regan reports, the mission has special significance for Flagstaff, where Pluto was discovered.
The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra opens its 64th season this evening with “Lost in Space,” a program dedicated to the Solar System and other-worldly ideas. In addition to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” and Nielsen’s “Helios Overture,” the program features a piece many Northern Arizonans may feel an affinity for – Pluto. The planet discovered in 1930 by Lowell Observatory astronomers and later designated a star, is the focus of award-winning composer, Margaret Brouwer. “Pluto” will be premiered tonight by the Flagstaff Symphony.