Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have rings, leaving Pluto as the only outer planet without rings. But PSI Senior Scientist Henry Throop would love to change that. Using both giant telescopes on Earth, and a small spacecraft currently on its way to Pluto, Throop is searching for signs that Pluto may have rings orbiting it, just like its neighbors. Astronomers expect that Pluto could well have rings, they’ve just never been discovered. Until now astronomers haven’t found any rings. Throop is working with NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is sending a spacecraft to Pluto, to arrive in 2015. When it passes by Pluto, one of New Horizons‘ goals will be to conduct a search for rings, at much greater sensitivities than can be done from the Earth.
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When New Horizons reaches the Pluto system, the spacecraft will provide a wealth of new data about this mysterious region of the Solar System. Studying worlds like Pluto can teach astrobiologists about how dwarf planets form and evolve. This information can ultimately help determine the types of planets that could exist throughout the Universe.