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New Moons Beyond Neptune: Exploring the companions of worlds within the Kuiper Belt

Event Details

Event Dates: 

Monday, October 23, 2017 - 4:00pm

Seminar Location: 

  • JILA Auditorium

Speaker Name(s): 

Alex Parker

Speaker Affiliation(s): 

Southwest Research Institute
Seminar Type/Subject

Scientific Seminar Type: 

  • Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences Seminar

Event Details & Abstract: 

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is far beyond Pluto and plunging through the cold classical Kuiper Belt, a remnant of the primordial disk of material from which the planets formed. On January 1st, 2019, it will conduct an extremely close flyby of the Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69, the most distant target of exploration in history and likely the most pristine relic from the era of planet formation ever seen up close. An intensive ground-based stellar occultation campaign recently revealed that 2014 MU69 (like many other Kuiper Belt Objects) may in fact be two worlds in close orbit around one another. I will discuss what we know about the 2014 MU69 system thus far, and what we hope to reveal during New Horizons' fast-approaching flyby. I will further describe ongoing studies of satellite systems on the other end of the mass scale in the Kuiper Belt - the recently-discovered moons of the dwarf planets 2007 OR10 and Makemake. We are conducting a campaign of Hubble observations of these systems to learn about the bulk properties of Kuiper Belt dwarf planets, and discover what they have to tell us about the processes that govern the growth of objects ranging in size from 2014 MU69 (~25 km) to Pluto (~2,380 km).