An Overview of the Surface Geology, Atmosphere, Climate, and Moons of Pluto

Smith, Jacob, Astronomy, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, AS-Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

The New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015 provided a plethora of data for geologic and atmospheric analysis of the elusive dwarf planet. The mission presented Pluto as a unique entity in our solar system, with an incredibly diverse terrain and relatively thick atmosphere. The geologic story of Pluto is still being told, as its long orbit around the sun can radically alter its landscape. The surface and atmosphere are constantly shaping one another; Pluto’s atmosphere can even affect the surface of its moon Charon, as they dance around one other tidally-locked. This study intended to focus on one particular feature of Pluto: sublimation pits. Using New Horizons data, specifically high-resolution images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument, sublimation pits in the heart-shaped Sputnik Planitia were mapped and spatially analyzed. Photoclinometry, or shape-from-shading, was used to determine the shape of the sublimation pits and overall surface topography. The final goal of this project was to automatically map the sublimation pits across many of the high-resolution LORRI images using a detection algorithm. The algorithm would provide more accurate data on the spatial distribution and shapes of the sublimation pits for use with heuristic models that simulate pit formation and growth over time. However, the plan for this study was altered due to the sudden shift to online courses. Regardless, I have chosen to outline the original research plan with the hope that it can help guide future research on this subject.

BA (Bachelor of Arts)
Issued Date: