Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti
Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti serves as a Principal Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, the premier center for the robotic exploration of deep space. She holds degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University. She began her career working on Voyager data of icy satellites, including the enigmatic smooth iceballs Europa, Enceladus, and Triton, which are moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, respectively. Her work has shown that these objects have unusual surface properties that suggest they are all currently active. NASA has appointed Dr. Buratti to the Science Teams for a number of missions, including the Clementine Mission to the Moon, Deep Space 1 (the first planetary mission to use ion propulsion), America's current flagship mission, Cassini, and most recently, the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Her recent work during the successful encounter of Deep Space 1 with the comet 19/P Borrelly showed that the surface of the comet is highly eroded but covered with a layer of native dust. Her role on New Horizons will be to understand how the surface properties of Pluto relate to possible geologic activity and seasonal changes.
Dr. Buratti runs several research programs as a Principal Investigator for NASA. Besides analyzing data from spacecraft, Dr. Buratti obtains data at large telescopes, such as the 200-inch "Big Eye" on Palomar Mountain. With over 70 scholarly papers and book chapters to her credit, she has also created an outreach program for NASA. Dr. Buratti developed and runs the JPL Teacher's Workshop "Teachers Touch the Sky". She has served on numerous NASA panels and professional committees.
Dr. Buratti answers some questions for us:
The Pluto Portal: What interests
you about the exploration of Pluto?
Dr. Buratti: Whether Pluto is an active changing planet like the Earth, or whether it is a world
where very little change has occurred during the past 2 billion years, like the Moon.
The Pluto Portal: What advice
would you give to someone interested in a career in space science?
Dr. Buratti: Don't give up. Anything worth doing is going to involve a lost of frustrations, false starts, and even false hopes. It's rocket science so it's not easy.
The Pluto Portal: Write
your own Pluto or Kuiper Belt Question someone from the General Public may
be interested in, and answer it!
Dr. Buratti: What is like on Pluto, and could human beings survive there?
Dr. Buratti: Well first, it's very cold on Pluto, less than minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body would freeze solid in perhaps one second. An astronaut would need a heated space suit made of a material that was very resistant to the cold. The surface atmosphere on Pluto is only a few millionths as thick as that on Earth, so you'd also have to bring your own supply of air. There is no oxygen in the atmosphere, but like the Earth, the most common gas on Pluto is nitrogen. The sun is on average 39 times further away on Pluto, so it gives less than a tenth of a percent of the light received on the Earth. The sun is still the brightest object in the sky. It's much brighter than Pluto's Moon Charon, which stays in the same place in the sky and is visible over only half of the planet. Charon appears about one-tenth as bright as the Earth's Moon. The gravity on Pluto is about one ninth that of the Earth's. A team of astronauts on Pluto could hit baseballs much farther and jump much higher. Sports might be fun on Pluto, but remember you have to drag around a heavy pressurized spacesuit, all your oxygen, and a heater.
Since it's too cold and dark on Pluto to grow any plants, you'd also have to bring all your own food.
The New Horizons spacecraft is happy in the cold dark environment of Pluto. It doesn't need any air, requires very little food (just a little fuel now and then), and it never gets lonely or tired. It's the perfect thing for exploring Pluto.
The Pluto Portal was envisioned by Dr. S. Alan
Stern, Principal Investigator of the NASA New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission
and Director of the Department Of Space Studies, in Boulder, CO. Website made
possibly by funding from the New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission. Website
created by Ted A. Nichols II. Banner and button artwork created by Daniel
Durda of Southwest Research Insitute's
Department of Space Studies in Boulder, CO. Imagery modified by Ted A.
Nichols II, with permission. Site design help provided by Patricia Kurtz of
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