Mason’s Pluto Expert to Give Behind the Scenes Insight at Monday’s Talk

One of the final images taken before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. Photo courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/ Southwest Research Institute

One of the final images taken before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. Photo courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/ Southwest Research Institute

One of the final images taken before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. Photo courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/ Southwest Research Institute

The New Horizons mission to Pluto captured the world’s imagination about the distant dwarf planet last month. On Monday, the George Mason University community can get a behind-the-scenes view into the mission, what to expect from it in the next few months, and new photos during an “Evening Under the Stars” talk at the observatory.

Mike Summers

George Mason planetary professor Michael Summers is one of 20 scientists on the international New Horizons mission’s science leadership team. He was at the command center when the space probe had its celebrated flyby on July 14 after nearly 10 years in space and three billion miles.

The talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31, at Research Hall on the Fairfax Campus. A tour of the Mason observatory will follow at 8 p.m., weather permitting.

“There hasn’t been such public interest in space exploration since perhaps the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s,” Summers said. “The Pluto encounter was the capstone of an ambition, begun by NASA 50 years ago, to explore the solar system with robotic spacecraft.”

The New Horizons mission is the first time we’ve gotten close to a dwarf ice planet. The images are astonishing and full of surprises, including a solid nitrogen ice glacier, a brilliant haze surrounding the planet, and ‘fresh’ surfaces on both Pluto and Charon indicating recent geological activity, Summers said.

“Most importantly, the information from the encounter has opened up completely new questions about how planets form and evolve over time,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Mason News

Write to Damian Cristodero at dcristod@gmu.edu

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