Today’s blog post is from Amanda Zangari, a postdoc on the New Horizons mission and is a member of the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team. She works at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
My name is Amanda Zangari, and I’ve been a postdoc on the New Horizons mission for about 2 ½ years. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s amazing how the time has flown by.
In the 85 years between Pluto’s discovery and the New Horizons flyby, we’ve learned enough about the Pluto system to fill a textbook and several scientific journals. Telescopes, cleverness and lots and lots of math enabled us to figure out many of the basics of the Pluto-Charon system before New Horizons arrived, even if Pluto was just 11 pixels across in the best images taken from Earth. We knew that Pluto was brownish-red with dark and light patches, and that the surface was covered with nitrogen, methane and tholins—brown gunk made when UV light hits nitrogen and methane.
We also saw a patch of carbon monoxide at Pluto’s brightest spot, which turned out to be the area that forms the left side of Pluto’s ‘heart,’ which we informally call Sputnik Planum. We ...