• What Did NASA Find at Pluto and Beyond?

    ice mountain
    One of the surprise features that New Horizons found on Pluto was an ice mountain volcano.
    The mountain is 90 miles wide and 2.5 miles high. Credit: NASA.

    As NASA’s probes plunge deeper into space, scientists are making surprising astronomical discoveries. For example, at one time, scientists believed that Pluto was alone in its orbit and that it was likely a dead, icy rock. However, both assumptions were found to be wrong. In 2006, NASA discovered that Pluto was orbiting many other objects. As a result, Pluto (which is about the size of the United States) lost its status as a major planet in our solar system. In 2015, scientists discovered a dynamic world on Pluto, including moving glaciers of nitrogen, mountains made of ice, and even cryovolcanoes (volcanoes that erupt water and ammonia or methane instead of molten rock).

    Ultima Thule
    The Kuiper belt object “Ultima Thule,” as imaged by NASA’s
    New Horizons Spacecraft. Scientists are just beginning to analyze its features.
    Two objects appear to have collided at a slow speed and joined together. Curiously, there are far fewer craters than expected and its red color seems related to similar colors found on Pluto and Pluto’s main moon, Charon. Credit: NASA.

    NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took nine years to reach Pluto and another three and a half years to reach the object “Ultimate Thule,” located in the Kuiper belt, a belt of mostly ice extending from the orbit of Neptune out past the orbit of Pluto. “Ultimate Thule” is one of hundreds of thousands of bodies that orbits Pluto and supposedly comes from the solar system’s original building materials.

    Join MHCC Planetarium Sky Theater Director Pat Hanrahan on Tuesday, March 5, and Friday, March 8, for a fascinating presentation on “What Did NASA Find at Pluto and Beyond?” Showtimes at 6 and 7:15 p.m. on both dates. During the presentation, you’ll learn about discoveries made within the past five years on Pluto and about the Kuiper belt – what it is and what it contains.