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Press Conferences

October 24, 2018
New Horizons Team Previews Ultima Thule Flyby
American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting

December 12, 2017
New Horizons Explores the Kuiper Belt
American Geophysical Union (AGU) Meeting

October 18, 2016
NASA's New Horizons Mission: Discoveries on Pluto and Worlds Beyond
AAS Division for Planetary Sciences and European Planetary Science Congress

March 21, 2016
New Horizons: Peering into Pluto's Past
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

November 9, 2015
Science Results from the New Horizons Encounter with Pluto
47th Annual Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting

July 24, 2015
New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

April 29, 2015
NASA's New Horizons Detects Surface Features, Possible Polar Cap on Pluto

April 14, 2015
NASA's New Horizons Nears Historic Encounter with Pluto

March 21, 2016

New Horizons: Peering into Pluto's Past

Lunar and Planetary Science Conference


New Horizons Team Presents Latest Pluto Science Results at Planetary Conference 

Members of NASA’s New Horizons mission team will present nearly 40 scientific reports on the Pluto system this week during the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston. The scientists will discuss results included in the March 18 issue of the journal Science, as well as results gathered from analyses of new data since the Science papers were submitted.

“The New Horizons team has been inundated with high-quality data beaming back from our spacecraft, now out in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “The findings we report this week at LPSC cover every aspect of the Pluto system, from its surface and atmosphere, to its origin and the nature and origin of its satellites. We’re excited to share these many results.”

The New Horizons team will discuss several noteworthy results with media on Monday, March 21, at noon CDT/1 p.m. EDT.  The briefing will be webcast live at http://livestream.com/viewnow/LPSC2016. Presenters and topics include:

  • Cathy Olkin, deputy project scientist from Southwest Research Institute, describing how New Horizons measured the radar reflectivity of Pluto and shattered the record for most-distant object ever explored by radar. “It’s a record that should stand for decades or longer – unless, of course, we use that technique again when New Horizons encounters another Kuiper Belt object,” Olkin says.
  • Richard Binzel, co-investigator from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reporting on a new understanding of Pluto’s long-term climate variations that include the finding that Pluto has both tropics and arctic regions. “Right now, Pluto is between two extreme climate states,” Binzel says. “We are just beginning to understand the long-term climate of Pluto.”
  • Principal Investigator Stern reporting on evidence that Pluto’s long-term polar axis shifts drive sharp changes in the planet’s atmospheric pressure over time, possibly causing Pluto’s atmosphere to be much more massive than that of even Mars. “In fact,” Stern says, “this opens up the possibility that liquid nitrogen may have once or even many times flowed on Pluto’s surface.”
  • Orkan Umurhan, postdoctoral researcher from NASA Ames Research Center, discussing the discovery and extensive variety of glacial landforms, glacial flow, and glacial erosion across Pluto. “There are two likely scenarios for the erosion we see,” Umurhan says. “It could be gradual, when much of Pluto’s nitrogen ice was lost over time. Or, it could be part of a cycle in which the nitrogen ice evaporates and redeposits on the highlands, before flowing back into the plains. In all likelihood, both scenarios have been and still are operating.”
  • Kelsi Singer, postdoctoral researcher from Southwest Research Institute, reporting on the first age-dating of Pluto’s satellite system from crater counts, showing for the first time that the giant impact believed to have created all of Pluto’s known satellites cannot be recent and instead occurred some 4 billion years in the distant past. “This is our first proof that the giant impact that created the Pluto system must have been ancient, not recent,” Singer says. “That puts the impact on a timeline going back billions of years, rather than millions.”

Stern will also deliver a lecture, “The Exploration of Pluto,” on Tuesday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. CDT.  The lecture is free and open to the public, and will be archived online. For the full schedule of live and archived Web events, see http://livestream.com/viewnow/LPSC2016.

New Horizons team members will be available for interviews at LPSC. Contact Mike Buckley of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory at (443) 567-3145 or michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu to schedule.

New Horizons is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.


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Olkin Slide 1

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Olkin Slide 2

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Longest-Distance Planetary Radar Experiment

Dr. Cathy Olkin, New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist, Southwest Research Institute

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Olkin Slide 1

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2

Olkin Slide 2

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New Horizons used techniques across the electromagnetic spectrum to investigate Pluto, including radio waves that the spacecraft’s radio science experiment (REX) measures. The imaging data is in the visible and near infrared range, but there are many more ways to learn about the Pluto system.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Olkin Slide 3

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Radar, a radio frequency technique, – has been used to investigate the surface properties of bodies across the solar system, but never beyond Saturn – until the New Horizons mission.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Olkin Slide 4

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In a bistatic radar experiment, the signal travels from a transmitter in one location, to a receiver in a separate location near the target object. In this case, the transmission came from NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna station, toward Pluto and the radio receiver on the New Horizons spacecraft.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 5

Olkin Slide 5

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This figure shows the New Horizons radio science data, with the bistatic reflectance indicated.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 6

Olkin Slide 6

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Given the difficulty of radar measurements at such long distances, and that other objects in the Kuiper Belt are smaller than Pluto, the team expects this record to hold for some time – unless New Horizons breaks it at another Kuiper Belt object. Provided NASA approves an extended mission, New Horizons could observe a KBO named MU69 on January 1, 2019.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Pluto's Climate Zones

Dr. Richard Binzel, New Horizons Co-Investigator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Binzel Slide 1

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Binzel Slide 2

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Like Earth, Pluto has tropical zones – they’re not the warmer tropics we’re used to on Earth, but these zones do drive Pluto’s climate. Source: Alissa Earle, MIT.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3

Binzel Slide 3

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An examination of Pluto’s long-term climate variations includes the finding that Pluto has both tropics and arctic regions. Source: Alissa Earle, MIT.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 4

Binzel Slide 4

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Pluto’s “tropical arctic” experiences both direct sunlight and prolonged periods of sunlight and darkness. Source: Richard Binzel and Alissa Earle, MIT (adapted from submission to Icarus).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Binzel Slide 5

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Pluto is currently between two extreme climate states.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Binzel Slide 6

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Pluto is currently between two extreme climate states.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Binzel Slide 5

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There is a band within Pluto’s tropics that never experiences arctic winter or arctic summer.
Source: Richard Binzel and Alissa Earle, MIT (adapted from submission to Icarus).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Binzel Slide 6

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Evidence for Thicker Past Atmospheres on Pluto

Dr. Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, Southwest Research Institute

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Stern Slide 1

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Stern Slide 2

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Characteristics of Pluto’s various climate states; the planet is currently between two climatic extremes.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Stern Slide 3

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Pluto’s surface vapor pressure, over the course of an orbital year (about 250 Earth years), during different climate epochs.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 4

Stern Slide 4

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Several surface features on Pluto – viewed in the informally named Sputnik Planum – may provide evidence of higher-pressure epochs. All scale bars are approximately 20 miles (30 kilometers) and images are oriented with north up. Image sources: “a” and “b” are from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) at  approximately 320 meters/pixel; “c” is from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at approximately 130 meters/pixel.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Stern Slide 3

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Evidence for Extensive Glacial Activity

Dr. Orkan Umurhan, New Horizons Research Scientist/Senior NPP, NASA Ames Research Center

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Umurhan Slide 1

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Umurhan Slide 2

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New Horizons scientists have spotted evidence of massive, recent downslope glacial flow in Pluto’s informally named Sputnik Planum region.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3

Umurhan Slide 3

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The glacial flow observed by New Horizons scientists appears to move toward the shoreline of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum; active glaciation is occurring in Pluto’s permanent tropics zone.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 4

Umurhan Slide 4

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The glacial flow observed by New Horizons scientists appears to move toward the shoreline of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum; active glaciation is occurring in Pluto’s permanent tropics zone.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Umurhan Slide 5

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Pluto’s ridges and troughs indicate past glacial flow and erosion.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Umurhan Slide 6

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Age-Dating Pluto's Satellite System

Dr. Kelsi Singer, New Horizons Postdoctoral Researcher, Southwest Research Institute

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Singer Slide 1

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Singer Slide 2

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Evidence has long pointed to a giant collision creating Pluto’s system of moons, as opposed to the small moons being captured objects. Evidence includes the moons’ co-planar, circular orbits and their similar brightness (which is brighter than most Kuiper Belt objects).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Singer Slide 3

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Crater measurements help scientists estimate the “age” of a planetary body’s surface.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 4

Singer Slide 4

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Crater measurements help scientists estimate the “age” of a planetary body’s surface. These images of Pluto’s smaller moons were taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on the New Horizons spacecraft.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 5

Singer Slide 5

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Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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