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26 Years and 3 Billion Miles to Pluto

7 Jul 2016, 19:43 UTC
26 Years and 3 Billion Miles to Pluto
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Fran Bagenal is a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is working on the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter. Her main area of expertise is the study of charged particles trapped in planetary magnetic fields. She remembers a young Alan Stern walking into her office in 1989 and suggesting a mission to Pluto.
“Whatever units you use – Kelvin, Fahrenheit or Celsius – it’s bloody cold on Pluto!” I incant in my strongest English accent.
I love giving public talks about Pluto. The audience is dying to see the latest pictures. And the New Horizons mission is a great success story. I recently returned from Toronto, where Pluto was the centerpiece of an annual astronomy evening – as it has been in many towns this past year. The Canadians peppered me with questions well into the night.
In this photo from a meeting of the Outer Planets Science Working Group in April 1991, Alan Stern (left) and Fran Bagenal (right) pitched the case for a mission to Pluto. Credit: Dale Cruikshank
Planetary exploration is a story of people. I start my talks showing ...

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