Space Center Houston is proud to announce that New Horizons principle investigator Dr. Alan Stern will be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Space Exploration Educators Conference Feb. 7-9, 2019.
Stern’s New Horizons spacecraft was the first to study Pluto in depth and sent back some stunning images in 2015. On New Year’s Eve, New Horizons made a close flyby of 2014 MU69, an object in the Kuiper Belt. Nicknamed Ultima Thule, this is the first time a Kuiper Belt object has been studied and photographed.
On July 14, 2015, something amazing happened. More than 3 billion miles from Earth, a small NASA spacecraft called New Horizons screamed past Pluto at more than 32,000 miles per hour, focusing its instruments on the long mysterious icy worlds of the Pluto system, and then, just as quickly, continued on its journey out into the beyond.
Nothing like this has occurred in a generation—a raw exploration of new worlds unparalleled since NASA’s Voyager missions to Uranus and Neptune—and nothing quite like it is planned to happen ever again. The photos that New Horizons sent back to Earth graced the front pages of newspapers on all seven continents, and NASA’s website for the mission received more than 2 billion hits in the days surrounding the flyby. At a time when so many think that our most remarkable achievements are in the past, the most distant planetary exploration ever attempted not only succeeded in 2015 but made history and captured the world’s imagination.
New Horizons provided some of the best images of Pluto we’ve ever seen in 2015, but it’s mission didn’t stop there. The plucky spacecraft kept journeying into the Kuiper Belt and gave scientists an unprecedented view of a new mysterious object. 2014 MU69 is a celestial body in the Kuiper Belt that showed up as a very tiny pixel for most of our observational history. New Horizons close flyby gave scientists the closest-ever view of an object from the Kuiper Belt.