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Scientists Probe Exploration of Pluto

Courtesy: Alex Parker

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now 70 percent of the way along its journey to the Pluto system. It carries a sophisticated package with eight scientific instruments comprised of imagers, UV and IR spectrographs, plasma analyzers, a dust counter, and radio science.

The probe’s payload was designed to reconnoiter the surfaces, atmospheres, interiors, and space environments of Pluto and its rich system of satellites, shedding light on the abundant new planetary class called ice dwarfs.

In preparation for the flyby of the Pluto system culminating in July 2015, the New Horizons project team held a seminal scientific conference at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland on July 22-26.

Launched January 19, 2006, New Horizons makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, and will need about a year to send home all the uncompressed data from its digital recorders.

Meet the meeting

Last month’s meeting included 103 talks, 30 poster presentations, and 13 topical sessions covering nearly every imaginable aspect of the Pluto system, including atmospheres, moons, dust and rings, magnetospheres, surface composition and geology, system origins, surface-atmosphere interactions, Kuiper Belt context, and, of course, the planned New Horizons encounter.

“This spacecraft and this team is stoked to make the first flyby of a Kuiper Belt planet and to revolutionize what we know about the Pluto system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. “We begin in just 18 months…in January 2015!”

Take a look at the meeting itself and the presentations by going here:

https://dnnpro.outer.jhuapl.edu/plutoscience/Home.aspx

Abstracts of papers from the conference can be found here:

https://dnnpro.outer.jhuapl.edu/Portals/19/All-Abstracts-7-3-2013.pdf

By Leonard David

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