Cathy Olkin: Exploring the Outer Reaches of Our Solar System
This talk discusses two separate NASA missions: the New Horizons mission that has explored Pluto and the Kuiper Belt and the Lucy mission that is in development now and will explore the Jupiter Trojan ices. After traveling for more than 9 years, NASA’s New Horizons mission accomplished its prime objective – the initial reconnaissance of the Pluto system. On July 14, New Horizons passed about 12,500 km from Pluto’s surface, flying between Pluto and the orbit of Pluto’s large moon Charon. I will discuss highlights of the mission results including the discovery of a deep basin containing glacial ices. Another three and a half years later after the Pluto encounter, on New Year’s Day 2019, New Horizons accomplished the prime goal of its extended mission, a flyby of the cold classical Kuiper Belt Object (486958) 2014 MU69. Little was known about this object before the encounter on New Year’s Day. The team had searched for an object to fly past in the Kuiper belt for years with the largest ground-based telescopes. In 2014, the target for our flyby was discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope. Stellar occultation observations of 2014 MU69 refined our knowledge of its ephemeris and led to debate if 2014 MU69 was a single object or a binary. We now know, from the New Horizons images, that MU69 is a contact binary. This talk will discuss the challenges of a planetary encounter at a distance of 43 AU and also the results from the MU69 encounter. Finally, I will describe the upcoming NASA mission to the Jupiter Trojan asteroids: Lucy. This mission will encounter 7 asteroids in 12 years with 1 spacecraft. Cathy Olkin is a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO. Her main topic of research is the outer solar system, specifically planetary atmospheres and surfaces. She carries out ground-based observations to learn about the size and atmospheres of small worlds. She also works on NASA’s New Horizons mission that provided the first close up images of the Pluto system and was the Deputy Project Scientist. Cathy is also the lead of one of the scientific instruments, the color camera and composition mapper. Dr. Olkin is the Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s Lucy mission, which will launch in October 2021. In her free time, Cathy mentors FIRST robotics programs providing hands-on STEM education for students from 4th grade to 12th grade.
Guilford Technical Community College
9/27/2019 11:30:00 PM

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