Dr. Kimberly Ennico Smith, deputy on the New Horizons project that will fly by Pluto in July 2015 and then outward into a far distant zone of millions of small, icy bodies called the Kuiper Belt, will be the featured spring speaker Friday, April 11, as part of the bi-annual Sherlin Lecture Series in Astronomy and Space Sciences at Community College of Aurora.
The lecture “To Pluto and Beyond …” begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public at the Fine Arts Forum (F100) on the CentreTech campus (16000 E. CentreTech Parkway, Aurora).
The college observatory will be open following the lecture, weather permitting.
The New Horizons project is expected to provide the first ever close up view of Pluto. Dr. Ennico Smith is one of the program leaders.
“This probe is really exciting. This is a part of the solar system we know very little about,” CCA Physics and Astronomy Faculty Victor Andersen said.
Some may recall a controversy about a decade back surrounding whether Pluto should have been “demoted” to dwarf planet status. Many people didn’t like or understand the move. Dr. Ennico Smith will be able to talk about Pluto on that level and also give insight on a galactic body that was missed when Voyager spacecraft in the 1980s visited the outer solar system.
New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft the United States has ever launched. It took the Apollo astronauts around three days to get to the Moon. New Horizons flew past the Moon in just eight hours.
New Horizons was launched January 19, 2006 and will fly past Pluto July 15, 2015 - meaning it will take 9.5 years to get to Pluto, even at that fantastic speed.
“To get the probe there in an amount of time that’s reasonable it has to go very fast, but it also means it will go by Pluto very fast, so it’s got one shot to perform flawlessly and we won’t know for months whether that was pulled off,” Andersen said. “That type of technology and scientific challenge is something that’s unprecedented.
“It’s scary as heck, but you have to push the frontiers and that means allowing for a chance at failure. It’s similar to Opportunity on Mars. That was a completely new way of doing things, and they pulled it off. They had one shot to get it right, and did it.”
Dr. Ennico Smith has been a staff scientist for NASA at its research center in Moffett Field, Calif., since 2000. She previously worked at Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her research interests are wide-ranging: space telescopes, rapid space mission development, infrared detectors, infrared optics, radiation detectors, spectrometers, astrobiology, lunar science, near-Earth objects, and STEM training.
“She works on a lot of different projects, and her specialty is making new scientific instruments work, so from that perspective, it will be interesting to hear what challenges were part of New Horizons,” Andersen said.