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Post of the Day

It’s September 21, 2016. I am in the weird & crazy place of rebranding my internet presence by collecting my scattered works into one place here.

Over the next few days this site will morph to get up to date. Then I can resume blogging in the present and capturing thoughts about the future.



The Pluto science community is rich and diverse, just like its target of study: the ever-fascinating Pluto and its satellite moons.

Reposted from

This blog entry concludes my series of talk summaries for the July 22-26, 2013 Pluto Science Conference, “The Pluto System on the Eve of Exploration by New Horizons: Perspectives and Predictions.” You can read more about the conference and browse through the abstracts at the conference website.

In his closing comments, Alan Stern (SwRI), the lead scientist (Principal Investigator) for NASA’s New Horizons fly-by mission to Pluto, told us about the last time a scientific discussion gathering specifically about Pluto occurred. It was twenty years ago, a 3-day meeting in July 1993, in Flagstaff, Arizona. The talks and presentations from that workshop led to ten contributed papers in a special issue in 1994 in Icarus (Vol 108, Issue 2) and, in 1997, the publication of a book entitled “Pluto and Charon” by The University of Arizona Press.

When the group gathered in 1993, the 1989 Voyager 2 fly-by of Neptune’s moon Triton’s was still “fresh data”, the prime Pluto-Charon “Mutual Events Period” of the 1985-1990 had just ended, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) would be soon coming back on-line with its fixed optics (the 1st HST servicing mission would occur in December 1993). It was a busy time for the Pluto science community.

Some attendees at the open workshop meeting on Pluto & Charon in July 1993, Flagstaff, Arizona.

This five-day July 2013 meeting has demonstrated that the quest to better understand Pluto and its environment is a very rich and diverse field of study. With each new data set about Pluto and its companions, surprises are uncovered and new questions are posed. When the New Horizons spacecraft reaches the Pluto system in July 2015, a true “first encounter experience,” its on-board suite of modern instruments will transform our current-best resolution ~800 km/pixel (from Hubble observations) to a resolution of 0.46 km/pix (hemisphere) with 0.09 km/pix (regional) resolution with the LORRI instrument. You can be certain there will be a lot more surprises in store. Combining this with new and unique data sets from New Horizons’ particle & dust instruments and the UV and IR spectrometers, our understanding of the Outer Solar System will find a new grounding.

With 103 oral talks + 30 posters + 13 “topical sessions” this was a jammed pack week of sharing old information, sharing new data from the past few years, sharing “hot off the press data” (it’s Pluto observing season right now and during the conference attendees were doing observations of Pluto & Charon with IRTF, Keck and other telescopes, remotely or with their colleagues at the telescopes), identifying what computations or experiments are needed before the 2015 encounter, and in some cases, providing predictions of what might be detected at Pluto and Charon. Several papers presented at this conference will be submitted to the Icarus journal.

Attendees at the “The Pluto System on the Eve of Exploration by New Horizons: Perspectives and Predictions,” held July 22-26, 2013, in Laurel, MD. The topical sessions covered Atmospheres, Charon, Dust & Rings, Interiors, Kuiper Belt Context, Laboratory Studies, Magnetosphere, New Horizons Mission, Origins, Satellites, Surface Composition, Surface Geology, and Surface-Atmosphere Interactions.

The stage is set for a summer 2017 Pluto Science Conference. New Horizon’s flyby of the Pluto System is on July 14, 2015, but it will take a bit over a year for all the data to come down losslessly (i.e. without compression). Deliveries to the NASA’s Planetary Data System are planned in 2016 and early 2017.

I hope you enjoyed this blog series reporting on these intriguing topics. You can follow the New Horizons mission status at any time by visiting the New Horizons Mission Website at and

To Pluto and Beyond!!!!

Science enabled by the platforms of Air & Space

Reposted from

I’m out here at NASA Dryden’s Aircraft Operations Facility,the DAOF, to support line operations for the Stratospheric Observatory forInfrared Astronomy, SOFIA. I’m normally a spacecraft science instrument builder, having previously tested detectors for astronomy space telescopes Spitzer and JWST and building, testing and operating a 10 instrument payload for LCROSS that impacted the moon in 2009 detecting water within a permanently shadowed crater. And since 2011, I am working instrument calibration operations for the en-flight probe to Pluto, New Horizons.

Thus, SOFIA, being an aircraft, is a very different experience for me, coming from the spacecraft side of the house.

Sitting in the DAOF with SOFIA are some of the world’s premiere aircraft used for Earth Science observations, measuring in-situ molecules in our planet’s atmosphere, capitalizing on a mobile platform that can go monitor fires, or survey ice sheets at the poles, or observe transient phenomena like meteor showers or spacecraft or space-sample return capsules.

Check out this amazing suite of aircraft and their objectives at NASA’s Airborne Science Program.

Tonight we roll out ~8pm local time for first night of line ops from the 11pm-5am shift. I’m very eager to experience this important prep-activity for SOFIA commissioning science flights which start next week.

More information about SOFIA’s unique science can be found at NASA SOFIA Web Page.


The Drake Tax


57d 42m 10s S, 64d 09m 35s W

So it began. The southern trek through the Drake passage. Traveling at an average of 12 knots, we were making good time. We learned about sail boats that take 3-4 days to cross this part of unpredictable waters. Sometimes you can get calm conditions (called the Drake Lake) but for the most part it was rough seas. Our companions were the mighty Albatrosses. Passengers spotted the Wandering, the Southern Royal, the grey-header and the black browed. I just marvelled at these amazing flying beasties who live on the ocean. Smaller birds, the White Chinned, Southern Giant and Black-Bellied Storm Petrels gave us some extra shapes to follow.

Sadly, most of this time I was spent down in our cabin on the 3rd deck. Yes, the sea did not deal well with the KImberly, but it was good time for reflection and reading. We had ice & snow up on deck with 40knot winds which prevented me from taking in the sea air and savour 360 degrees of land-less beauty (I do find the open sea to be just beautiful). I did pay the Drake Tax. But read on, it was worth it.