Flagstaff scientist joins NASA mission to uncover solar system origins

Jan 3, 2018, 4:53 AM
New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy with Lowell Observatory is seen during a New Horizons medi...
New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy with Lowell Observatory is seen during a New Horizons media briefing where new images and science findings collected by the spacecraft during the historic flyby of Pluto were discussed Friday, July 17, 2015 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. (Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
(Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

PHOENIX — A Flagstaff scientist is working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in an effort to uncover how the solar system was formed.

Astronomer Dr. Will Grundy is a planetary scientist at the Lowell Observatory and is also leading the New Horizons surface composition theme team, which is based out of the Flagstaff observatory.

The New Horizons mission launched back in 2006 and conducted a six month flyby study of Pluto and its moons in 2015, the administration said.

But Grundy said New Horizon’s next mission is to reach MU-69, a collection of millions of pieces left over from the formation of planets. It is in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the solar system.

“MU-69, which we’re going to reach in one more year, is 4 billion miles from Earth,” Grundy said.

This means that New Horizons is traveling about a billion miles in just a few years, zooming along at a speed of more than 36 thousand miles an hour.

“The distance between the Earth and the Sun is 92 million miles and we cover that distance three times in a year,” Grundy said. “So that’s how fast New Horizons is going.”

The images that the New Horizons mission gathers as it passes MU-69 could unlock key questions about the origin of the solar system.

“This is the kind of building blocks that the outer part of the solar system constructed and used to build the giant planets,” he said. “And we’ve never seen one of these up close, so we don’t even have any idea what they’re going to look like.

“I’m very curious how that process worked in the outer solar system,” he said. “Did things sort of suddenly clump together through their own gravity, or did you slowly build up one dust particle sticking to another dust particle?”

Even though New Horizons is expected to reach MU-69 in a year, people will have to wait another year after that before the data can be transmitted back.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)...
Danny Shapiro

Services to be held Tuesday for MCSO deputy killed in line of duty

Memorial services will be held Tuesday for a Maricopa County Sheriff's deputy killed in the line of duty earlier this month.
16 hours ago
Rockwell Commander 112, File Image (Wikimedia Commons Photo/FlugKerl2)...
Associated Press

Wreckage of small plane located in southern Arizona; no apparent survivors

The wreckage of a small plane has been located in Pima County and there appears to be no survivors, authorities said Monday.
16 hours ago
Sarah Liguori was appointed to the vacant Arizona House seat for District 28 on Oct. 18, 2021. (sar...
Kevin Stone

Sarah Liguori appointed to fill Arizona House seat for District 28

Sarah Liguori was selected Monday to fill the Arizona House seat for District 28 vacated by Democrat Aaron Lieberman, who resigned last month to focus on his campaign for governor.
16 hours ago
(Twitter Photo/@ArizonaDOT)...

US 60 closed in West Valley because of cement truck fire

U.S. 60 in the West Valley was closed temporarily Monday during the noon hour because of a cement truck fire, authorities said.
16 hours ago
Mary Ann Friesen (Photo via Arizona Department of Public Safety)...

Silver Alert canceled after missing Chandler woman found safe

Authorities canceled a Silver Alert on Monday after a missing Chandler woman was found safe.
16 hours ago
(Twitter Photo/ADOT)...

Fiery collision on Pima Freeway Loop 101 in Scottsdale leaves 1 dead

One person died in a fiery chain-reaction collision on a Valley freeway Sunday, authorities said.
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Why fall maintenance is important for your heating system and A/C

It’s easy to ignore your heater and air conditioner when they’re working but the moment something breaks, you will likely regret not keeping up with maintenance. After all, if something goes wrong, you may be stuck with a repair that will take longer and be more expensive than simple maintenance.
Schwartz Laser Eye Center

How to sharpen your vision with elective procedures

Imagine opening your eyes in the morning and being able to see clearly. You wouldn’t have to wait to put on glasses or contacts, and there would be no more blurry showers nor forgetting where your glasses are.
Chris Kennedy

My Special Aflac Duck® taking flight in Arizona

For more than 65 years, Aflac has had the extraordinary opportunity and privilege to help provide peace of mind to individuals who have our supplemental insurance policies.
Flagstaff scientist joins NASA mission to uncover solar system origins