The New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt

Pluto - the planet that used to be. But does that matter? To the scientists behind NASA's New Horizons mission, Pluto and its moon Charon hold unlocked secrets about ice dwarf planets, the least investigated but most common type of planet in our solar system.

To get to Pluto, which is three billion miles from Earth, in just nine and a half years, the spacecraft will travel at a velocity of about 43,450 kilometres per hour. The instruments on New Horizons will start taking data on Pluto and Charon months before it arrives. About three months from the closest approach - when Pluto and Charon are about 9.6 million km away - the instruments will take pictures and spectral measurements, and begin to make the first maps.

Dr Alan Stern is the principal investigator of New Horizons, which hopes to find answers to basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmosphere of Pluto and Charon. When New Horizons was launched in January 2006, it was travelling at 58,536 km/h, making it the fastest man-made object launched or created.

Click here to see Dr Stern's powerpoint presentation.

The Speaker

Alan Stern

Dr Alan Stern is a planetary scientist, space program executive, and author. Until recently he was Associate Administrator of NASA’s Space Mission Directorate. His research has focused on studies of our solar system's Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, comets, the satellites of the outer planets, Pluto, and the search for evidence of solar systems around other stars. In his 25 year career history he has been to numerous astronomical observatories, to the South Pole, and to the upper atmosphere aboard high performance military aircraft. In 2007, Stern was listed among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World.

When not studying the skies, Dr. Stern writes, and goes hiking and camping. He and his wife Carole have two daughters and a son and they make their home in northern Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.


Venue: Slade Lecture Theatre, School of Physics, Camperdown campus, University of Sydney

Time: 6.30pm onwards

Date: Thursday 13th November

RSVP: 9351 3472