Unveiling Pluto, with Alan Stern and Neil deGrasse Tyson

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

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About This Episode

Whether you think Pluto is a planet, a dwarf planet, or an animated dog, there’s one thing everybody can agree on: the Pluto unveiled by the New Horizons mission is more “stunningly complex” than anyone expected. That includes both our host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, his guest, Dr. Alan Stern, the Principal Investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission, and our in-studio guest, astrobiologist (and StarTalk All-Stars host) Dr. David Grinspoon. Join us as we explore Pluto, from its 1,000-foot-high methane crystals that run for hundreds of kilometers, to its volcanoes and glaciers, to its Texas-sized ice field known as Sputnik Planum which covers about 1 million square kilometers without a single crater marring its surface. You’ll hear about Pluto’s atmosphere – another unexpected discovery – and the possibility of an ocean of liquid water under Pluto’s frozen surface. Of course, no discussion of Pluto would be complete without Neil debating both Alan and David about how we should classify everyone’s favorite Kuiper Belt object, and about the vote by the IAU that demoted Pluto to dwarf planet – and you may be surprised by what Neil concludes. You’ll also hear about what we’ve learned about Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, the possibility of “Planet X” deeper in the Kuiper Belt, and NASA’s future plans for the New Horizons spacecraft. Plus, co-host Chuck Nice explains why you shouldn’t sneeze on Pluto but you should consider investing in Plutonian real estate.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Unveiling Pluto, with Alan Stern and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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  • Pluto

    base on the IAU definition of planet,
    1. is orbit around the Sun,
    2. has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and
    3. has “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit.

    Doesn’t that make Jupiter not a planet too?
    it so massive, it doesn’t obit the Sun but it orbit a point in-space together with the sun, which made it not meet the criteria #1, no?

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