Student-Faculty Programs Office
Summer 2017 Announcements of Opportunity

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Project:  New Horizons Encounters Pluto
Disciplines:  Planetary Science, Physics or computer science
Mentor:  Bonnie Buratti, (JPL),, Phone: (818) 354-7427
Mentor URL:  (opens in new window)
Background:  The New Horizons spacecraft performed a close flyby of Pluto in July 2015 and sent back a wealth of data, including images and spectra of its surface, atmosphere, and five moons. Among the questions to be answered by these observations are: What is the nature of the ongoing geologic reprocessing of its surface? Is there seasonal frost transport on the surface? What is the composition of Pluto? How hazy is its atmosphere? Are there prebiotic molecules on its surface? Does it have any liquid water in its interior? Opportunities exist for a student to be involved in analysis of the imaging data from the spacecraft. With this first new look at Pluto, unforeseen discoveries will certainly be made.
Description:  One specific project is to assemble multispectral images of Pluto to map the albedo and presence of volatiles on the surface of the dwarf ice planet. Geologic projects such as a search for dunes or plumes is also possible. Another project is to research and collect data from previous missions for objects expected to be similar to Pluto. Finally, telescopic observations of Pluto and similar bodies from JPLs Table Mountain Observatory (TMO) can also be acquired to compare with spacecraft images.

Buratti B. J. et al. 2003. Photometry of Pluto in the last decade and before: Evidence for volatile transport? Icarus 162, 171-182.

Buratti, B. J. et al. 2015. Photometry of Pluto 2008-2014: Evidence of ongoing seasonal volatile transport and activity. Ap. J. Lett. 804, article id. L6, 6 pp.

Stern, A.S. et al. 2015. The Pluto system: Initial results from its exploration by New Horizons. Science

Buratti, B. J. et al. 2017. Global Albedos of Pluto and Charon from LORRI New Horizons Observations, accepted for publication inn Icarus. Available online at

Student Requirements:  Proficiency in using the linux operating system and image processing packages such as IDL and IRAF is desirable but not necessary. The ISIS software package will be used for some of the image analysis. Knowledge of basic astronomy and geology is also useful.

Location / Safety:  Project building and/or room locations: . Student will need special safety training: No.
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       SURF    Caltech students only 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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Problems with or questions about submitting an AO?  Call Jen Manglos of the Student-Faculty Programs Office at (626) 395-2885.
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