July 29, 2019  (Web Review)

Pluto and Beyond

(2019) 60 min. DVD: $24.99 ($54.99 w/PPR). PBS Video (www.teacher.shop.pbs.org). SDH captioned. ISBN: 978-1-5317-0912-9.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In January 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft with the mission of flying to our solar system’s outer reaches to take photographs and collect data on Pluto and points beyond. Filmmaker Terri Randall’s PBS-aired NOVA documentary describes New Horizons’ long journey. Pluto is four billion miles from Earth, and signals take four and a half hours to reach mission control. The journey has been risky, as any collision with a foreign object—even as small as a grain of sand—could cause massive damage, ending the spacecraft’s mission. Passing other planets and capturing an erupting volcano on Jupiter, by 2015 New Horizons is finally ready for its fly-by of Pluto, a small, icy body with a rocky core. The subsequent photographs reveal ice mountains that are more than a mile high, a massive glacier, and possibly, an “ice volcano.” Pluto has a long (248 years) and “eccentric” orbit around the Sun, and while previously thought to be barren, scientists now believe that a liquid ocean lies deep beneath the frigid surface and that this—combined with a radioactive, rocky core—holds some potential for life forms. Continuing its journey, the satellite views the Kuiper Belt (a huge field of icy debris) and sets its sights on MU69—or “Ultima Thule,” meaning “beyond the farthest frontier”—a recently discovered body that may hold the key to the birth of planets in our solar system. Celebrating an epic celestial journey that will probably not to be repeated in our lifetime, this is recommended. Aud: H, C, P. (S. Rees)