November 2015: The Pluto system explored!

This month’s issue of Astronomy magazine recaps the first science results from New Horizons’ historic Pluto flyby, celebrates the centennial of Einstein’s general relativity and the 20th anniversary of the Hubble Deep Field, goes behind the scenes of The Martian, and more.
By | Published: September 28, 2015 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
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WAUKESHA, Wis. — The world watched with bated breath July 14 as mission operations for New Horizons waited to receive a signal from their spacecraft indicating it had successfully completed its historic flyby of the Pluto system. And with the official “We’re outbound from Pluto” message from Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, everyone turned their attention to the 5 percent of flyby data New Horizons would send back before it took a much-deserved break. But no one, including Principal Investigator S. Alan Stern, could have predicted what the photos would reveal.

Stern explains in “The Pluto system explored!” that the team was “uniformly surprised” with the complexity of the distant world’s surface and how extensively it will change scientists’ understanding of small planets. He highlights the main points of excitement from the first bit of data, including Pluto’s icy nature, the diversity of its terrain types, and the characteristics of its intriguing family of moons. And the surprises will just keep coming for the next year as New Horizons gradually sends back all the data from the flyby.

To get the inside scoop from the head of the New Horizons mission team on the initial Pluto images, be sure to check out the November issue of Astronomy, on newsstands October 6, and stay tuned to for the latest news and images from the flyby.

“Einstein’s relativity turns 100”
If Albert Einstein’s groundbreaking 1905 special theory of relativity explaining the relationship of space-time didn’t make him the most famous scientist in the world, his general theory of relativity published 10 years later certainly did. The latter is still the best theory of gravitation we have today, 100 years later, its fundamental tenants proven again and again. “Einstein’s relativity” author James Trefil celebrates what the great physicist’s theory has taught us about the universe and explores how it still challenges today’s brightest scientists as they search for the elusive gravitational waves that it predicts.

“Hubble Deep Field: Picture worth a trillion stars”
Twenty years ago, the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute ordered the Hubble Space Telescope to stare at an unremarkable spot of sky for 10 full days. The depth of the exposure shocked the astronomy community by revealing thousands of previously invisible galaxies that existed just 2 billion years after the Big Bang. C. Renee James relives the story of the Hubble Deep Field and explores how it and its future iterations have changed our understanding of the universe

“Behind the scenes of The Martian [link to the Martian parallax piece]
In September 2012, when computer programmer Andy Weir posted the science-fiction novel he’d been gradually writing on to Amazon, he could never have imagined that it would become one of the most anticipated movies of 2015. But can The Martian, a novel-turned-blockbuster about a future fictional NASA’s Mars program, help put the U.S. space agency’s plans for human exploration of the Red Planet in the limelight? Associate Editor Eric Betz traveled to the director Ridley Scott’s set to find out.

November sky events visible without optical aid

•    November 3 — Mars and Venus appear right next to each other in the morning sky.
•    November 6 — The waning crescent Moon passes Jupiter before dawn.
•    November 17/18 — The Leonid meter shower peaks under dark skies.

Also in the November 2015 Astronomy

•    “Big Island astronomy”: Snorkeling, sunbathing, and stargazing — Hawaii might just be the perfect vacation.
•    “History and future meet at Lowell Observatory”: Amid a refurbishment of Percival Lowell’s great refractor, this history-laden facility looks to a new age.
•    “The Sky this Month”: Exclusive star charts will guide you through November’s night sky.

•    The November issue also features Snapshot, Astro News, Ask Astro, Bob Berman’s Strange Universe, Jeff Hester’s For Your Consideration, Stephen James O’Meara’s Secret Sky, Glenn Chaple’s Observing Basics, Erika Rix’s Astro Sketching, Adam Block’s Cosmic Imaging, New Products, Web Talk, Reader Gallery, and Breakthrough.

About Astronomy magazine:
Astronomy offers you the most exciting, visually stunning, thorough, and timely coverage of the heavens above. Each monthly issue includes expert science reporting, vivid color photography, complete sky-event coverage, spot-on observing tips, informative equipment reviews, and more. All of this comes in an easy-to-understand user-friendly style that’s perfect for astronomers at any level. Contact Astronomy, the world’s best-selling astronomy magazine, at 262.796.8776 or email