Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Five Years Since Victoria's Pluto Party

Ivar Arroway updates Pluto flyby celebrants in Victoria about New Horizons' latest findings, 14 July 2015. Chris Gainor photo.
Today marks five years since the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto and its moons. It took New Horizons nine years to get there, so the rendezvous was widely anticipated.

In my case, I had lived in Victoria B.C. for nearly two decades before we finally got a look at the ninth planet in our solar system, or depending on your viewpoint, the king of the dwarf planets.

Most of those years I lived near Pluto’s Restaurant, which serves Tex-Mex food in a converted service station on the edge of downtown Victoria. It has always been decorated with photos of the (other) eight planets of our solar system. When, I wondered, would a photo of its namesake object join them?

During the time New Horizons flew from Earth, swung by Jupiter, and finally gave us earthlings our first real glimpse of Pluto, I came up with a plan. I decided to throw a party the evening of July 14, 2015, at Pluto’s.

New Horizons made its closest passage to Pluto early that day, about the same time as its controllers at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. released a close-up photo of Pluto. Word from the spacecraft that it had safely passed by Pluto was due to be received around dinner time.

That morning I got up and ran to my computer, got word that all appeared well, and then drank in the dramatic image showing the face of Pluto. I downloaded it and arranged for a high-quality printout at a photo lab near the restaurant.

With help from my friends in the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, I arranged for a screen and a projector at the restaurant so we could follow the news from the APL control centre in Maryland. Astronomers Ivar Arroway and Michele Bannister, who were working at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on solar system objects, helped update the crowd of people who came for dinner at Pluto’s on what New Horizons had found.

Pluto's Restaurant, Victoria B.C. Chris Gainor photo.

In addition to the usual great food from Pluto’s (“The Hottest Food From the Coolest Planet”) we enjoyed special cupcakes from Happy Ditty Bakery.

Finally, I was able to present a framed copy of the close-up photo of Pluto to the restaurant’s owner. The photo still hangs there today, along with the other planets.

Last year there was word that the block where Pluto’s is located is due to be redeveloped, which portends changes for Pluto’s. But in the meantime, the restaurant has returned to operation after being closed for a few weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As for New Horizons, it is still going strong after upending scientists’ suppositions about Pluto, and in 2019, imaging Arrokoth, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits beyond Pluto.

This photo of Pluto as seen by New Horizons now hangs in Pluto's Restaurant. NASA photo.


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