Exploring Our Solar System

Pluto and Mars Revealed

1/6 (Tuesday)  Exploring Our Solar System: Pluto and Mars Revealed Presented by Mike Adler, Geologists of Jackson Hole.

Prior to the New Horizon probe’s fly-by of Pluto the planet was known only by a few pixels of data, and considered likely to be a dead, uninteresting world. No one predicted what would actually be found! Imagery from New Horizons reveals an incredibly active world, with ice mountains >15,000’ high, and quite likely an “ocean” of liquid water buried beneath its surface. The New Horizon’s fly-by on Pluto occurred 2.5 years ago but ongoing data analysis continues to reveal new information about this incredible world. The recent interpretation that there is a deeply buried layer of water on Pluto despite a surface temperature of -400F, results from the widespread evidence of very recent geologic activity on its surface. The talk will discuss this and the many other surprises associated with the incredible geological diversity on both Pluto and its large moon, Charon.

While a century ago Percival Lowell saw “canals” on Mars and Edgar Rice Burroughs created tales of heroic adventure, we now know Mars is NOT the “dead planet” that initial scientific exploration suggested when the Viking probe landed on the surface in 1976. There have now been 22 missions to the red planet and 5 are ongoing. These missions have provided evidence for flowing water, oceans and streams, and an atmosphere much more hospitable to possible life in Mars’ past.

Most of this talk will review the Curiosity rover’s ongoing 5.5 year journey in the Gale crater. It initially studied the geology of the crater floor, and is now gradually climbing higher on the crater’s central massif of Mt. Sharp. Rover photos and rock sampling document that the early Martian environment could have supported life. A summary of these discoveries as well as incredible, beautiful imagery from the Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the planet will provide a wonderful tour of Mars and what we know about its current state and early history.