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College of Science and Mathematics

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NASA Team Leader to Discuss Missions to Pluto and Jupiter on April 12 at Cal Poly

Contact: John Keller


SAN LUIS OBISPO — Fran Bagenal, one of the team leaders on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and a working group chair for the Juno mission to Jupiter, will share discoveries about these worlds at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, in Spanos Theatre at Cal Poly. The talk is free and open to the public.

The two missions are among the most exciting in space exploration.

New Horizons, which launched in 2006, became the first spacecraft to explore Pluto up close and yielded stunning images of the dwarf planet. The successful flyby in July of 2015 provided scientific results that were beamed back to Earth through October of 2016 and far exceeded NASA’s expectations. The mission has potential additional targets to explore in the coming years in the Kuiper Belt — a group of large, frozen bodies that orbit the sun in the outer region of the solar system.

Photo of woman smiling

Bagenal, a research scientist and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, will speak about how New Horizons came to be, how the spacecraft got to Pluto, and how the findings challenge the current understanding of ice worlds in the outer solar system.

“Even in our wildest dreams none of us on the New Horizons team really expected the July 2015 flyby of Pluto to produce such riches,” Bagenal said.

The talk will also cover ongoing discoveries from NASA’s Juno mission, which launched in August of 2011 and has been in orbit around the gas giant Jupiter since July 4, 2016. The most recent 55-day orbit was completed Feb. 2, and its next close flyby is March 27. During its 20 months in orbit, the satellite soars low over Jupiter’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,600 miles. During these flybys, it can probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover to study its auroras and to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information visit

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