[meteorite-list] Assessing Pluto from Afar - Worldwide, Ground-based Astronomy Campaign Supports New Horizons

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2014 12:18:49 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201406061918.s56JInIg008809_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Assessing Pluto from Afar
Worldwide, Ground-based Astronomy Campaign Supports New Horizons
June 6, 2014

When New Horizons speeds past Pluto in July 2015, its set of
sophisticated cameras and sensors won?t be the only high-tech ?eyes?
trained on the distant planet and its moons. The New Horizons mission
team has officially kicked off its two-year-long Earth-based Observation
Campaign, an opportunity for astronomers around (and above) the globe to
observe Pluto while New Horizons approaches and passes it.

"New Horizons offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to measure 'in
situ' the state of the Pluto-Charon system," said Richard Binzel, a New
Horizons co-investigator from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who
leads the campaign. "After decades of measuring the system through
Earth-based telescopes we know it is very dynamic, and also realize that
the New Horizons flyby provides a snapshot of a single moment in the
system. We want to establish an extensive context using Earth-based
telescopes for the state of the Pluto system at the time of the flyby,
including evolving trends in the system for at least one year prior- and

Here's how the program works: the New Horizons team puts out
international calls for its "most wanted" observations, encouraging
individual or teams of planetary astronomers to propose observation
campaigns to various telescopes. The program's five phases match the
separate stages of New Horizons? own encounter at Pluto, such as
pre-encounter (now through October 2014), immediate approach (April-May
2015), encounter (June-August 2015), immediate post-encounter
(September-October 2015) and later post-encounter (April-December 2016).

'Of course, simultaneous ground- and space-based measurements when New
Horizons flies past Pluto [on July 14, 2015] are important for
calibration and context," Binzel said. 'But observations before and
after the flyby are just as important."

What observations can the New Horizons team expect from Earth?

The team unveiled the campaign at last summer's Pluto Science conference
<https://dnnpro.outer.jhuapl.edu/plutoscience/Home.aspx>, and has asked
more than a dozen of the world?s leading observatories to support the
mission. New Horizons scientists led workshops on the program at the
European Planetary Science Congress last September and the AAS Division
for Planetary Sciences meeting in October, and the team has launched a
website <http://www.boulder.swri.edu/nh-support-obs/> that includes
sections for submitting proposals and finding collaborators, among other

"The campaign relies on individual investigators responding to calls for
observations," said Joel Parker, a New Horizons co-investigator from
Southwest Research Institute and deputy lead on the New Horizons
ground-based observation coordination team. "We especially want to
identify how these programs can complement each other."

For more on the New Horizons Earth-based Observing Campaign, visit:

http://www.boulder.swri.edu/nh-support-obs/ .

Contact the observation coordinating team at nhobs at boulder.swri.edu

Early Results

In early May, using the 4.2-meter William Herschel Telescope in the
Canary Islands (pictured below), New Horizons Science Team
co-investigator Dale Cruikshank led a team that collected spectral
measurements of Pluto. Cruikshank and colleagues will use the data to
help determine the composition of the patchy pattern of non-ice
materials on Pluto?s surface.

"This yellow-colored material is presumed to consist of complex organic
chemicals made by sunlight and cosmic rays impacting on Pluto's ices
[nitrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and others],' Cruikshank said. 'The
new data from the big telescope in the Canary Islands, compared with lab
data in which Pluto?s surface is simulated and exposed to ultraviolet
light, will test these ideas and lead to an improved understanding of
Pluto?s chemistry."

Cruikshank's team includes Noemi Pinilla-Alonso, of the University of
Tennessee at Knoxville, Vania Lorenzo, of the Isaac Newton Group of
Telescopes (which operates the Herschel telescope), and Javier Licandro,
of Instituto de Astrof?sica de Canarias.
Received on Fri 06 Jun 2014 03:18:49 PM PDT

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