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Special Seminar

The Farthest Exploration of Worlds in History: New Horizons at Ultima Thule

Alan Stern
Lead PI, NASA New Horizons Mission
Associate Vice President, Southwest Research Institute

Friday, April 26, 2019
1:00 pm

ASE 1.126

 

alan stern phootOn January 1, 2019 the NASA New Horizons mission made the first exploration of a Kuiper Belt Object, 2014 MU69, informally known as Ultima Thule (UT). The exploration of UT, over 4 billion miles from the Sun broke the previous most distant exploration of worlds record by over 1 billion miles. The Kuiper Belt is a broadly torus shaped region of primordial planetary building blocks and dwarf planets beyond Neptune’s orbit.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which made the first exploration of the Kuiper Belt dwarf planet Pluto and its system of moons on July 14, 2015, has now also made the first exploration of a primordial planetary building block in the Kuiper Belt, on January 1, 2015. That object, known as 2014 MU69 (henceforth MU69), is ~100 times smaller diameter and ~106 times less massive than Pluto, and is located about 1.6 billion kilometers farther from the Sun. More specifically, MU69 orbits in what is known as the “cold classical” region of the Kuiper belt, thought to host the least dynamically evolved population in the Solar System. The high-speed flyby of MU69 by New Horizons collected ~50 gigabits of high-resolution imaging, compositional spectroscopy, temperature, and many other measurements to reconnoiter this Kuiper Belt Object.

This talk will summarize the New Horizons mission, the technical challenges of this just completed flyby, and its major results.

utlima thule imageKuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Contact  Dr. David Goldstein (512) 471-4187 or david@ices.utexas.edu