Drury Professor Sheds Light on NASA’s Images of Pluto

Jul 16, 2015

This week NASA revealed some detailed images of one the farthest objects in the solar system, Pluto. The views came after one of the agency’s space crafts that was launched in January 2006 finally reached its destination.

Drury University Physics Professor Dr. Greg Ojakangas, who received his doctorate degree in planetary astrophysics, was very excited about NASA’s discovery and what it means for the future.

“We have now visited by American spacecraft every planet in the solar system,” he said.

Today, Pluto is considered a dwarf planet due to its small size. But Dr. Ojakangas disagrees with that distinction.

“Pluto and its moons comprise a planetary system that is every bit warranting as being classified as a planet,” said the professor.

Pluto has a system of five moons - its largest moon Charon - and shares the same qualities as the Earth in that they are both considered to be double planets, according to Dr. Ojakangas.

It is believed that scientists will be able to learn what the surfaces on Pluto and its moon Charon are made of as light is reflected off the surface.

“We’re not only getting pictures that are showing us the shape, the structure of the surface of Pluto, but we’re also getting information from the reflected light,” Dr. Ojakangas said.

Dr. Ojakangas also said that there are plenty of reasons why people should be interested in learning more about Pluto and how it relates to understanding the Earth.

One example is that the professor noticed there may be faults on Pluto similar to the faults that creates earthquakes on Earth.

“I find for example the pictures of these mountains on Pluto fascinating. They look to me like they’re multiply faulted,” he said.

He said the mountains on Pluto are almost certainly made of water ice due to the low temperatures that causes the water to behave as a very rigid bedrock.

“There is nitrogen ice that is on the surface and we may find in the high resolution images it’s quite possible there could be glaciers made of solid nitrogen.”

Dr.  Ojakangas is looking forward to seeing what other scientific discoveries the high resolution images will reveal about Pluto.

See images of Pluto taken from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft and learn more about this week's fly-by here.