“The New Horizons Mission to Pluto and the Outer Solar System” with Alan Stern (SWRI Boulder, USA)

The New Horizons mission – a NASA New Frontiers class mission – was launched early 2006 and was the first to explore the Pluto-Charon binary planet and its satellites, up-close through a six-month long fly-by in 2015. After leaving the Pluto-Charon system, the spacecraft went on to make the first spacecraft exploration of Kuiper belt objects (KBOs). It was eventually targeted to fly-by 486958 Arrokoth (originally nicknamed Ultima Thule) in 2019. The spacecraft is one of only five to have achieved escape velocity from the Solar System. It is possible that the spacecraft will fly by another KBO still to be detected on its way out of the solar system.  

Equipped with a suite of visible, infrared, and ultraviolet remote sensing instruments and plasma and energetic particle spectrometers, as well as a dust impact detector, New Horizons gathered data that revolutionized our understanding of the Pluto-Charon system and Kuiper belt objects. To name a few discoveries, Pluto was found to have actively flowing glaciers covered with nitrogen ice that even control its climate. Pluto is tectonically and volcanically active with icy slush “lava” having poured onto the surface, likely controlled by processes in a subsurface ocean. Even Charon’s surface shows traces of cryo-volcanic activity. Being so far out in the cold reaches of the Solar System, the Pluto-Charon system is a remarkably active world!

Dr. Alan Stern is a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado and the Chief Scientist of World View, a commercial high-altitude ballooning company. Alan serves as the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission and the lead of the science team. World View https://worldview.space/ has bases in Arizona and Australia, flies payloads for astronomy, planetary astronomy, solar physics, earth observations, and atmospheric studies, and is actively reaching out to connect with scientist interested in flying payload all over the world. To sign up for World View’s research mailing list, go to https://world-view-research-education.mailchimpsites.com/.

This Seminar was recorded on August 13, 2020