The Sky at Night: Pluto Revealed

In 2015 the New Horizon probe flew past Pluto at the outer edges of our solar system, recording vast data and sending new amazing footage of Pluto back to Earth’s scientists.

In The Sky at Night: Pluto Revealed we’ll look at the inside story of NASA’s groundbreaking visit to Pluto.

Before the New Horizons probe journeyed close enough for us to see Pluto, we had to gather all data we had of the dwarf planet from 3 billion miles away. It’s safe to say, our data on Pluto have expanded exponentially.

But what did it take to get all the way to Pluto? NASA scientists explain the research and actual work to get to the dwarf planet as been well under way for over 50 years.

And what data was gained from the New Horizons probe? Although scientists are still examining the data, so far New Horizon have taught us that:

  • Pluto is coloured red by ammonia spewing from recent activity underneath its surface.
  • Pluto may harbour an ocean that’s kept liquid by an extra layer of gas molecules trapped in the ice at the base of its frigid shell.
  • Next to Pluto’s heart-shaped plains are strange rolling hills unlike anything we’ve seen on Earth, and they may be left over from receding ancient glaciers.
  • Pluto doesn’t have much of an atmosphere, but it does have just enough wind to blow methane ice grains into a field of dunes at the foot of a huge mountain range.
  • Pluto’s heart-shaped ice plain is full of nitrogen, which hints that the tiny world is made from a billion comets and could have a buried ocean.
  • The surface of Sputnik Planitia, part of a heart-shaped plain on Pluto, has no craters at all. They may have been filled in by soft, flowing nitrogen ice.
  • Pluto is far from the sun, so astronomers expected its atmosphere to be cold, but it’s colder than predicted. Now we know that soot sends the sun’s heat back into space.
The Sky at Night: Pluto Revealed
  • Info
  • Release date2015
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Thomas Hewitson
  • Part of the seriesThe Sky at Night
  • Production companyBBC