It seems as though the loneliest of planets, Pluto, is sending out love signals to the universe. Recent images from NASA’s New Horizons flyby revealed a heart-shaped outline on the dwarf planet’s tiny, cragged surface, making it the most desperate dating profile picture ever. Pluto will finally get some much-needed love as the Houston Museum of Natural Science presents a talk about the planet as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, August 11.
The lecture, hosted by Dr. Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Clear Lake, reviews the New Horizons and Dawn missions, which have been mapping out the icy planets of Pluto and Ceres since 2005 and 2007, respectively. The recent developments have got the astronomy community in a tizzy, speculating about where it stands now and what is coming next for the outcast and isolated planet. So far, the answer is legitimacy.
“We’ve made Pluto real, finally,” says Dr. Carolyn Sumners, adjunct professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University, and Curator of Astronomy at HMNS. “People have only really thought of Pluto in a throwaway way. It was fortuitously named for the dog and has always been a favorite because of the name.”
NASA’s New Horizons project has shined a light on Pluto’s campaign to be considered a full-blown celestial body. It's been 10 years since it was demoted to a "dwarf planet," but through reams of data and super high-definition images, it's determined that Pluto is even bigger than originally thought. “There are a lot of these Plutos out there. It wasn’t a sentimental thing to adopt it to a planet list. It was pragmatic,” says Sumners.
Detailed images show ice flows, glaciers, mountain ranges—all invigorating a revived interest in the planet, helping to pull it from its ugly duckling status. “This is worth doing. We have plenty of questions and that’s what we really want: answers to a lot of questions.”
Distinguished Lecture Series. $12-18. 6:30. Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 713-639-4629. hmns.org