Seminar series

New Horizons: Exploration of the Pluto System and The Kuiper Belt

Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute

17 Nov 2017 - 01:30

Please note special day and time!

New Horizons is NASA’s mission to explore the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt (KB). New Horizons launched on 19 January 2006. It made the first exploration of the Pluto system in July 2015 and is now on a five year long extended mission to explore the Kuiper Belt and objects in it. The spacecraft carries a sophisticated payload of imagers, spectrometers, and other scientific instruments that have been used to study Pluto, its five moons, Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), and the heliosphere. The flyby of the Pluto system by New Horizons revealed a complex planet and satellite system. Beyond providing rich geological, compositional, and atmospheric datasets, New Horizons demonstrated that Pluto has been surprisingly geologically and climatologically active throughout 4+ Gyr, and that it exhibits a surprisingly complex range of phenomenology and geologic expression that rivals Mars in its richness. I will describe the mission’s objectives, the capabilities of the payload, the flyby of the planet, and some major and some
recent scientific discoveries made to date. Chief among the results I will discuss will be the evidence for various kinds of internal/geological/atmospheric/volatile transport activity at Pluto. I will close by briefly also outlining the extended mission flyby of KBO 2014 MU69 on 1 Jan 2019 and the cruise science studies of dozens of KBOs being performed en route to and after that flyby.

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