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Science and Innovations

Flagstaff Scientists Celebrate Pluto Flyby

Kevin Schindler

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto yesterday, KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny was patched into mission operations in Maryland. She was talking to some of the Flagstaff scientists who were there to celebrate the big event. It was a reunion for past and present planetary scientists of Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered 85 years ago. 

Dr. Will Grundy is a co-investigator for the New Horizons mission. When he saw the clearest picture yet of Pluto, he was overwhelmed with excitement. “I have to say, this image, it really knocks your socks off,” he said. “In my wildest imagination I don’t think I could have come up with that.”  

The images suggest evidence of geologic activity—impact craters, fault lines and maybe even a snow-capped mountain or two—but Grundy says the best information is yet to come.

“You gotta stayed tuned, because this is just a tiny little sliver of the data that was taken, and more stuff is going to be coming in, in the coming weeks and months,” Grundy said.  

Kevin Schindler, communications specialist at Lowell Observatory, was also in Maryland for the flyby. He said the mission is especially meaningful for Flagstaff.

“Flagstaff is the home of Pluto,” Schindler said. “We call it that with good reason. I think it’s something the whole community can really take pride. It’s always great when you see people cheering and it’s not a sports event; it’s science.”

It will take more than a year for New Horizons to send back all of the flyby data. Scientists at Lowell Observatory will be involved in the analysis. Next the spacecraft will head further into the Kuiper Belt, the unexplored region of icy objects to which Pluto belongs.   

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