Friday, October 13, 2017, 3pm
Location: Planetary Hall Room 126

Michael Summers
Department of Physics & Astronomy
George Mason University

The New Horizons Mission to Pluto: A Recap of Science Results, and a Look Forward to the Encounter with 2014MU69


The New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to the Pluto/Charon double planet system on July 14, 2015.  The observations, and especially the images of Pluto and Charon returned by the spacecraft were astonishing, and provided many surprises.  Those surprises included a gigantic glacier, presumably made of nitrogen, methane, and possibly other ices, on Pluto’s equator that buffers Pluto’s atmosphere.  Another was the apparently “fresh” nature of the surfaces of both Pluto and Charon, implying geological “young” ages for these objects.  And yet another surprise was the global system of haze layers for which we still lack a convincing explanation. The information from the New Horizons encounter has taught us much, yet it has opened up completely new questions about how planets form and evolve.   In this talk I will give a recap of the major science results from the New Horizons mission as well as an overview of the key remaining questions.  I will also discuss what we can expect as the New Horizons spacecraft travels onward to its next flyby of Kuiper Belt Object 2014MU69 that will occur on January 1, 2019.