The public has a free chance this week to glimpse the frontier of space — the edge of our solar system — when a NASA ambassador shares images from NASA’s pioneering flight to Pluto.
Greg Cermak of Battle Ground, a solar system ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, will give an illustrated talk Wednesday on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the edge of our solar system. The local astronomy club, Friends of Galileo, is hosting the event at 7 p.m. in the multimedia room near the back entrance of Mark Morris High School. The public is welcome.
Launched in January 2006, New Horizons is designed to fly to the dwarf planet Pluto and its large moon Charon and transmit images and data back to Earth. (In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union redefined the former planet Pluto as a dwarf planet because its moon is half its size. Cermak is among astronomers who consider Pluto and Charon a double planet for the same reason.) All the other planets in our solar system already have been visited by spacecraft.
New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. Then, as part of an extended mission, the triangle-shaped craft will spend five to 10 years in the Kuiper Belt region beyond Neptune. The Kuiper Belt is a birthplace of comets and is believed to be the source of much of Earth’s water and the simple chemical precursors of life.
New Horizons will fly by one or more Kuiper Belt objects, gather and send back data.
“With the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, the U.S. space program will complete the first era of planetary reconnaissance, a profoundly inspiring feat of lasting historical significance,” Cermak wrote in an email to The Daily News.
In addition to his role since 1999 as a solar system ambassador, Cermak is a software engineer and technical trainer, and he taught astrobiology at Washington State University-Vancouver. His interests include technology, reading, history and bicycling. He is a frequent speaker at school programs, public and industry events.
He spoke to the Friends of Galileo last fall on NASA’s Cassini mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.