Science For Alaska

Science for Alaska Lecture Series 2014: Jan. 21

To Pluto and Beyond: NASA's New Horizons mission

Peter Delamere
Associate Professor of Space Physics
UAF Geophysical Institute
 
Abstract:

The NASA New Horizons spacecraft is bound for Pluto for a dramatic flight past the icy dwarf planet and its moons in July 2015.  This unique mission is poised to answer unresolved questions about Pluto, its escaping atmosphere, and the elusive Kuiper belt of icy objects.  Once a "real" planet, Pluto was downsized to a "dwarf planet" after the discovery of another similar object named Eris in 2005.  The discovery of Eris, and many other Kuiper belt icy objects, caused astronomers to question the definition of a planet.  While Pluto's reassignment as a diminutive dwarf planet has caused some consternation, rest assured that interest in Pluto has not waned as Pluto may hold valuable clues as to the origin of the solar system.  We will embark on mission of discovery during this lecture, retracing the footsteps of the New Horizons spacecraft while it hurtles through space towards Pluto. Fascinating new discoveries of Jupiter and its moons and their bizarre auroral lights were made during the Jupiter gravity assist in 2007.  As New Horizons approaches its destination new data is received regularly, measuring the solar wind and the distribution of dust (yes, dust!) in the solar system.  We will wrap up the discussion with expectations for the Pluto encounter in 2015. 

 
Biographical blurb:
 

Dr. Peter Delamere is an associate professor of space physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Geophysical Institute.  He received his bachelor’s degree in Physics from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and his doctorate in physics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

He remained at GI for his post-doctoral fellowship researching energy and momentum coupling between injected plasma and ambient plasma populations and participated in the Calcium rocket campaign and Active Plasma Experiment conducted at Poker Flat Research Range. He continued working with plasma dynamics and energy as a Senior Research Associate at Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc., Lexington, Massachusetts.

 His most recent research focuses on studying the solar wind interaction with the giant magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, comets, Pluto, and the plasma interaction at Io, at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado and here at UAF as well as contributing to NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft bound for Pluto.

*From his CV on his webpage

His research focuses on comparative magnetospheric physics with an emphasis on the numerical simulation of space plasmas using hybrid (kinetic ion, fluid electron) and multi-fluid techniques. Dr. Delamere has studied the solar wind interaction with the giant magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, comets, Pluto, and the plasma interaction at Io.  In addition, he has developed models to study the flow of mass and energy through the inner magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn to study the internally-driven dynamics of these systems.

 
Education

June 1991: B.A. in Physics from Carleton College (cum laude), Northfield, MN

May 1998: Ph.D. in Physics at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK

 
Professional Experience

Oct 2012 - present:     Associate Professor of Physics at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Nov 2001 - Oct 2012: Research Associate at Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, studying magnetospheric dynamics at Jupiter and Saturn and solar wind interactions with comets and Pluto.

Jan 2000 - Oct 2001: Senior Research Associate at Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc., Lexington, MA, studying plasma dynamics and plasma energy and momentum coupling in the Io plasma torus.

May 1998 - Dec 1999: Post Doctoral Fellow at Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fair-banks, studying energy and momentum coupling between injected plasma and ambient plasma populations. Participated in the Calcium rocket campaign and Active Plasma Experiment (APEX) conducted at Poker Flat Research Range, Fairbanks, Alaska.

 
Awards/Recognition

Outstanding contribution to the “success of the SWAP Instrument aboard the New Horizons Mis-sion to Pluto and its ability to explore Jupiter, our heliosphere, and the Pluto-Charon system.” (Dr, Dave McComas, New Horizons Co-Investigator)