Space Talks Series

The demystification of Pluto and its moons, an account from

#PlutoPalooza at the Explorer’s Club

Written By
Edited By

The Explorers Club is located in the heart of New York City, hosting the premiere expeditionary moments of the world since its inception in 1904. This society has served generations of explorers and scientists through ‘international multidisciplinary professional’ research endeavors for the purpose of the advancement of exploration. A historical landmark, the headquarters is a hidden gem from its iron-twill entrance gates and vines leading to an archaic time portal emanating artifacts of history from the first missions to the North and South Poles, the surface of the Moon and most recently the first to the outskirts of the Galaxy, The Kuiper Belt with NASA’s New Horizon’s Mission.

As one enters the corridors, one can witness historical artifacts exhibited across the halls, flags from the first journeys to the North and South Poles, and books stacked in the wooden canopy library of the formerly old mansion. On May 13 2021, the Explorers Club hosted the Pluto Palooza, a grand event for Pluto aficionados regarding NASA’s New Horizon’s Mission for 2021. This event does not fail its title maintaining implications of astronomical proportions. What is this significant moment in history and why is it relevant to you, me and the world? That’s a great question. With the Pluto flyby of the NASA spacecraft, we will be able to witness Pluto and Charon (its largest moon of five) through a whole new lens which was previously unattainable.

Dr. Buie pointing out Pluto

The panelists from the night were representatives from Johns Hopkins University's APL center and SouthWest Research Institute in Boulder, CO. Dr. Alan Stern, Cathy Olkins, Dr. Marc Buie, and Tiffany Finley were the keynote speakers discussing the prospects of the results from the New Horizon’s Mission with the anticipated flyby.

Four out five of Pluto's known moons

Dr. Alan Stern is a Principal Investigator (PI) and lead missions on the New Horizon spacecraft, such as the Alice UV spectrometer and the Ralph Visible Imager/IR Spectrometer. Dr. Alan Stern and Hal Weaver (Johns Hopkins APL) and Mark Showalter (SETI Institute) discovered Pluto’s previously unknown moons, “Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.” At #PlutoPalooza, Dr. Stern, discussed his pivotal scientific equipment on the probe and how the #Plutoflyby may indicate unknown moons of Pluto and even if it has a ring. Kathy Olkins is a deputy Project Scientist for the New Horizon’s Mission and has special interests in the icy worlds of the solar system. She has coached in the First Lego League Robotics competition and has been a long time participant of the educational outreach. Dr. Marc Buie is a co-investigator at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), who has been a long time advocate of exploring the 9th planet Pluto. Recently he has discovered some Kuiper Belt Objects, which the New Horizon’s Spacecraft will flyby after sweeping past Pluto and Charon. Tiffany Finley is the Principal Engineer at SwRI and has an MS degree in Aerospace engineering at CU Boulder where they produced the “Venetia Burney Space Student Dust Counter,” which is also “the only student built instrument on a major NASA mission” to date. Venetia Burney was the original student who suggested the name for Pluto.

Photos provided by the Hubble telescope allow us to gather images of galaxies within the universe but it doesn’t produce clear images of Pluto. This phenomenon is due to the scale of which the Hubble takes images from far away galaxies in the universe has a larger resolution than when compared to the scale of zooming in on Pluto in our solar system which has a smaller resolution. We can compare this ratio as given by a comparison of Galaxy NGC 5584 to Pluto by The Planetary Society. 1 Galaxy NGC5584 spans 50,000 light years across and is 72 million light years away, creating a ratio of .00069 while Pluto is 2400 kilometers across and 4.675 km away from Earth (in accordance to a photo taken on July 7, 2012) creates a ratio of 0.00000051.

On July 14, 2021, with the New Horizons Mission flyby, the world will have much sharper images of Pluto and perhaps it may appear as Central Park as seen through the aerial images of Manhattan from space, a moment of levity from Dr. Alan Stern. As I witnessed the presentations from the New Horizons’ panelists, I anticipated how the surface of Pluto would appear within close proximities.

Furthermore, on April 9, New Horizon spacecraft took the first color image of Pluto and Charon. The image was taken at a distance of approximately 71 million miles. The #PlutoPalooza, at The Explorer’s Club, informed Pluto and Space enthusiasts and students about the missions and how the flyby will provide scientists better images of Pluto and Charon which has the span of Texas. The New Horizon’s probe carries “seven scientific instruments,” which will be able to “characterize the geology and environment of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperature, and examine Pluto's complex atmosphere.”2

The New Horizon’s Spacecraft traveled more than ‘3 billion miles’ over the duration of the last 9 years and will flyby 7,800 miles above Pluto’s surface on July 14.3 The probe will soar across Pluto’s system at the rate of 30,000 mph-which is 500 miles per minute and 8.3 miles per second! In a matter of days, NASA will obtain more data on the characteristics of this exo-planet, Pluto, than has ever been recorded before in the far reaches of “the third zone”.

NASA's first color image of Pluto

The approach of New Horizons spacecraft towards Pluto, will provide deeper insights on the geology and composition of Pluto as well as the formation of our solar system which can allow us to propose a more profound understanding of the universe. Watch and stay tuned with us, on July 14 2021 as humanity embarks on a new frontier to the very edges of our solar system and beyond.

Follow on Twitter:


Explorer's Club
NASA New Horizons

#PlutoPalooza. A NASA panel on the #NewHorizons spacecraft headed to flyby Pluto in 2021.

Posted by NewSpace NYC on Thursday, May 14, 2021