New Horizons Mission to Pluto by Fran Bagenal
After decades of planning and a 9-year journey, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto on July 14, 2015, providing our first close-up view of the Kuiper Belt Object and its five moons. Since Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 there have been rare breakthroughs in our knowledge of this small icy object on the edge of the solar system: detection of a large moon Charon in 1975, detection of an atmosphere in 1988, and measurements of a few atmospheric constituents using the largest telescopes on Earth. Hubble Space Telescope pictures show just a fuzzy blob – though revealing intriguing high contrast dark and light areas. And in the past few years Hubble observers have picked out a total of five moons. New Horizons will get better and better over spring 2015. The spacecraft will fly through Pluto’s escaping atmosphere, measure the interaction of the planet’s escaping atmosphere with the solar wind, and take detailed pictures of the surface of Pluto and its moons.
Dr. Bagenal is professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is co-investigator and team leader of the plasma investigations on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter. Her main area of expertise is the study of charged particles trapped in planetary magnetic fields.
Dr. Bagenal received her bachelor degree in Physics and Geophysics from the Lancaster University, and her doctorate degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT in 1981. She spent five years as a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College, London, before returning to the United States for research and faculty positions in Boulder, Colorado. She has participated in many of NASA’s planetary exploration missions, including Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo, and Deep Space 1.