Speaker Index


Dr John Spencer
New Horizons: On the Threshold of the Pluto System
July 21st, 2014

On July 14th 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will make the first-ever encounter with Pluto, its giant moon Charon, and retinue of four smaller satellites, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.

The Pluto system is unlike any place previously explored, and promises a harvest of spectacular discoveries.

Dr John Spencer will discuss the many remarkable things that we already know about the Pluto system, the long journey of New Horizons from conception to the launchpad and to Pluto and beyond, and how we will use the spacecraft to revolutionize our understanding of Pluto and its surroundings.

After the New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015, and there will be enough gas in the spacecraft’s tank to fly toward at least one and possibly two Kuiper Belt Objects in the distant outer solar system. The expected date of the KBO flyby will be between 2016 and 2020, depending on the object chosen and its distance from Pluto.


John Spencer is an Institute Scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and a member of the New Horizons science team. A native of England, he obtained his PhD in Planetary Sciences from the University of Arizona in 1987, and has since worked at the University of Hawaii and at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona (where Pluto was discovered) before joining Southwest Research Institute in 2004.

John studies the moons and other small bodies of the outer solar system using ground-based telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, and close-up spacecraft observations. He was a science team member on the Galileo Jupiter orbiter and continues to work on the science team of the Cassini Saturn orbiter.

Among other work, he was involved in the discovery of current activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus, solving the mystery of the black-and-white appearance of Saturn's moon Iapetus, and the discovery of oxygen on the surfaces of Jupiter's icy moons.

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