Pluto: Gateway to the Galaxy
• Pluto sky as seen from Pluto on November 20, 2005
• The New Horizons spacecraft was being prepared at Cape Canaveral for its launch on January 19, 2006 for its nine-year odyssey.
• Five other planets positions in our solar system are depicted.
Our perspective of Pluto is from a perch on the edge of a vast basin filled with frozen cryo-volcanic fluids like water, methane, and nitrogen that serve as this tiny world's 'lava' instead of rock. The bitterly cold temperatures on Pluto can cause these materials to freeze solid and water ice becomes as hard as granite rock, but it does not require much energy to briefly liquify or vaporize them. Internal heat generated from tidal interactions with Pluto's large moon Charon, seen looming over the horizon, may have precipitated episodic 'cryo-volcanic' eruptions over Pluto's long 4 billion-year+ history.
When Pluto swings closer to the Sun along its eccentric 248-year-long orbit, it experiences a mild 'warming season', allowing volatile gases like nitrogen to vaporize and produce a temporary thin atmosphere. Cosmic radiation irradiating the surface induce photochemical reactions in simple molecules like methane linking them into large complex organic molecules that take on reddish to dark brown hues which, together with other compounds that may be present, transform the landscape before us into a frozen wonderland.
As you gaze back toward our distant Sun from this vantage point, contemplate our little world huddled in its warmth, lost in its glare, and the intrepid little grand-piano-sized spacecraft that is about to rush headlong toward us to greet its target – Pluto: Gateway to the Galaxy.
Original Painting © by Adolf Schaller & Donna Tracy - OmniCosm Studios for Griffith Observatory, April-September 2006
13050x9900p at 300ppi (FOV width~100 degrees; ~130.5 pixels/degree, average). Note: Angular distances vary across painting.