Letter: Reaching for the horizon | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Reaching for the horizon

The Aspen Science Center, similar to other science organizations around the world, is celebrating the remarkable technology that is allowing humankind to view the farthest reaches of our solar system. David Aguilar, an Aspen Science Center board member and the former director of science information at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, joined NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Team in 2015 to lead media coverage of the historic Pluto flyby.

“It is crazy around here,” he said Tuesday. “We showed up for work this morning at 5 a.m., and new images are still coming in. We’ve taken a pinpoint of light we grew up with in school and turned it into a real planet. It is the farthest mission humans have ever undertaken in the exploration of the final frontier of our solar system.”

Fifty years after landing on the moon, the New Horizons spacecraft is soaring past the dwarf planet of Pluto, sending back a plethora of data that will fuel the knowledge of astrophysicists and astronomers forevermore. Pluto is the first of the ice bodies making up the Kuiper belt, and New Horizons will now fly past this gateway into a region of frozen volatiles and asteroids made up of frozen liquids such as ammonia, methane and water. It has traveled for 9.5 years across 3 billion miles of space at 31,000 miles per hour to do this precisely calculated flyby of a dwarf planet three-quarters of the size of our moon. What makes this mission even more remarkable is the idea that the slightest bit of space debris, something no larger than a rice pellet, can create an impact that would destroy the craft’s abilities. Nonetheless, the path looks clear, and scientists around the world are anxiously awaiting the signals that take 4.5 hours to reach Earth. The photos will undoubtedly provide more surprises and amazing facts about the complexities of our universe.

Denise Barkhurst

Development assistant, Aspen Science Center

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