Pluto and awards at planetary sciences meeting in Tucson

Posted by Rich Talcott
on Friday, November 14, 2014

Outgoing DPS Chair Heidi Hammel presents the 2104 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award to Rich Talcott. // Rick Fienberg (© 2014 AAS)
The 46th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society in Tucson, Arizona, continued apace on Thursday. Scientists discussed their latest research on diverse topics including asteroids, planetary rings, and active moons such as Enceladus, Europa, Triton, and my personal favorite, Io. And though Rosetta’s mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko held center stage at the meeting on Monday, attendees were still buzzing about yesterday’s landing of the Philae probe on the comet’s surface.

But perhaps Thursday’s biggest topic was Pluto. Nearly 85 years after its discovery, the distant world remains largely a mystery. Even the world’s greatest telescopes show it as a fuzzy object only a few pixels across. It often amazes me how much information observers can glean from such scanty evidence.

The Pluto resolution problem will disappear in 2015, however, when the New Horizons probe flies past. At an engrossing press conference today, Alan Stern, Jonathan Lunine, Joel Parker, Alice Bowman, and Hal Weaver described how the spacecraft will explore the planet during an encounter mission that starts in January and culminates with closest approach July 14. Look for Stern, the New Horizons principal investigator, to detail the mission for Astronomy’s readers in the February issue.

No meeting of the DPS would be complete without award presentations, and today’s held special interest. Outgoing DPS Chair Heidi Hammel presented the 2104 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award to Astronomy and author James Oberg for the article “Torrid Mercury’s icy poles” in the December 2013 issue. Unfortunately, Jim couldn’t be at the meeting, so I accepted the award. It’s the second time in the past three years that the magazine has won this prestigious award. Here’s hoping for many more.

Related: Dusting off old research at planetary sciences meeting in Tucson

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