Today’s post is written by Josh Kammer, a New Horizons postdoctoral researcher at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. Josh came to SwRI directly after his PhD in planetary science from Caltech; his undergrad work in chemistry was at Texas A&M. Josh’s work on New Horizons focuses on analysis of ultraviolet spectra acquired by the Alice instrument.
The geometry of the occultations of Pluto and Charon, as observed by New Horizons. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
As someone who primarily studies atmospheres, I think the most exciting observations made by New Horizons this past summer were the solar occultations by Pluto and Charon. Achieving the required alignment of spacecraft, planet and the sun during an occultation was a difficult challenge – especially when there was a significant amount of uncertainty in the exact position of Pluto at the moment of New Horizons’ flyby. However, the mission planners and our navigation team were able to take this uncertainty into account, and not only managed to thread the eye of the needle by flying New Horizons through Pluto’s shadow, but through a portion of Charon’s shadow as well!
Chasing After Shadows
So why is this so exciting from an atmospheric science point of ...