SJAA Ephemeris November 2006 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next

Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series

Dale Cruikshank speaking on Pluto on November 8, 2006

Andrew Fraknoi


Astronomer Dale Cruikshank of NASA’s Ames Research Center will give a non-technical, illustrated talk on: “The Planet Pluto: Maligned but Not Forgotten” as part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures in the Smithwick Theater, Foothill College, El Monte Road and Freeway 280, in Los Altos Hills, California. No background in science will be required for this talk.

Although Pluto is only one of many worlds beyond Neptune that are now recognized as dwarf planets, it is the one we know best.

And to generations of Americans who in their youth learned about Pluto’s discovery by a Kansas farm boy in 1930, it is perhaps the one that is most loved. With a thin atmosphere, a layer of smog, three moons, and a patchy surface made of many kinds of ice, Pluto is the gateway to the vast outer fringe of the Solar System, where trillions of lumps of ice, rock, and organic chemicals orbit the Sun in a permanent deep freeze.

Recognizing Pluto’s importance to our understanding of the outer regions of the Solar System, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft in January, 2006. Streaking outward at nearly 70,000 miles per hour, New Horizons will reach Pluto in July 2015. The knowledge gained from this first close-up inspection of Pluto and its moons will expand our understanding of all the dwarf planets beyond Neptune. This new understanding will be all the more important as the completion of new and powerful survey telescopes begins to accelerate the discovery of new objects out there.

Dr. Cruikshank is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the outer solar system. He and his colleagues discovered the ices that make up Pluto’s surface and evaporate to form its thin atmosphere. As a former amateur astronomer, he has a knack for explaining scientific ideas in simple, direct language.


Previous | Contents | Next