Happy New Year, New Horizons!


Join us for ‘Imiloa’s Maunakea Skies talk series with John Hamilton, affiliate faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy

Friday, January 18 at 7pm

Learn about the continuing saga of the New Horizons spacecraft and its New Year’s Eve flyby of Ultima Thule, an object 4 billion miles from the sun! Find out why this was so exciting to astronomers and the public and how it happened in spite of the federal government shutdown. New Horizons is an interplanetary robotic space probe, engineered and managed by the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University as part of NASA’s New Frontiers program. Its primary mission was to fill in the gap of the highly successful Voyager and Pioneer missions by visiting the one planet missed: Pluto! Launched on January 19, 2006, it was the fastest spacecraft to pass the Moon in only 9 hours. At the time of launch, Pluto was still classified as a planet. It was demoted to Dwarf Planet status in August 2006 after the discovery of a more massive body, Eris. Pluto now rules the region beyond Neptune which is thought to contain over 35,000 similar, small icy bodies. This region between 30-50 Astronomical Units (AU) is now called the Kuiper Belt, in honor of Gerald P Kuiper (who incidentally had an early role promoting Maunakea as a site for observational astronomy). The Kuiper Belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake.

On July 14, 2015, New Horizons performed a flyby of Pluto and its five moons. After surviving its close 7,800-mile encounter through the Pluto system at nearly 31,000 mph, astronomers searched for other targets that would be within the narrow range of New Horizons fuel budget and transmitter power reserve. 2014 MU69 (aka Ultima Thule) was discovered by the Hubble Telescope. A successful flyby occurred just at the beginning of this month and data is still being transmitted and received. John Hamilton is an affiliate faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, having just retired from his full-time teaching position at UH Hilo. He is the principal investigator (PI) for the Mars exploration simulation NASA grant BASALT (Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains) and works on another NASA grant SUBSEA (Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog) which explores similarities between Lo`ihi and the geysers discovered on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus. Both are NASA PSTAR (Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research) awards. Hamilton was previously directly responsible for the logistics and execution for two NASA In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) field tests operated by PISCES at UH Hilo: the 2008 NASA Resolve analog test and the 2010 International (NASA/CSA/ESA) Lunar Surface Operations ISRU Utilization Field Test. He received 3 NASA Group Achievement Awards along with several NASA Certificates of Appreciation. Hamilton has been an invited judge for 8 years at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Robotic Mining Competition. He also run field campaigns for two Google Lunar X-Prize teams. As a workshop contributor to the Human Landing Sites Study (HLS2) for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars, Hamilton continues to investigate sites with the aid of imagery data from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

General admission tickets are $10 (non-members). $8 for members (member level discounts apply). Pre-purchase tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk or by phone at 808-932-8901.

Sharing Hawai‘i’s legacy of exploration, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is a world-class center for informal science education located on the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. Its centerpiece is a 12,000 sq. ft. exhibit hall, showcasing science and Hawaiian culture as parallel journeys of human exploration guided by the light of the stars. The visitor experience is amplified with presentations using ‘Imiloa’s full dome planetarium and 9 acres of native landscape gardens. The Center welcomes approximately 100,000 visitors each year, including 10,000+ schoolchildren on guided field trips and other educational programs. ‘Imiloa is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off of Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo Science and Technology Park.

For more information, visit www.ImiloaHawaii.org or call 808- 932-8901.