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  • Writer's pictureMike Meynell

History of Astronomy: Arrokoth and the Sentinals by Greg Smye-Rumsby

There could be no better person to be the speaker of our first “in-person” History of Astronomy meeting in nearly 3 years than Greg Smye-Rumsby.

Greg is no stranger to the Flamsteed, having given History of Astronomy talks in the past, as well as several lectures to the whole society. He is a familiar face to all who attend events at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, as a specialist planetarium presenter, and readers of Astronomy Now magazine will have seen his diagrams and celestial maps in every issue.

Mycenae House was the venue for this meeting, a venue that we’ve always enjoyed using in the past, not least because of its excellent café on the ground floor and always helpful staff.

Mark Jeffery, our new History of Astronomy coordinator, along with Bobby Manoo and myself, got the room set up for our attendees. At 7pm, we were ready to kick-off.

Greg gave a very engaging talk about the New Horizons mission. Launched in 2006, it spent over 9 years to reach Pluto, where it sent back some extraordinary images and changed our perception of the dwarf planet. The images suggest recent geological activity on the surface of Pluto, something that we previously did not think possible, and it is unclear what is causing this.

Greg Smye-Rumsby

Given the great distances involved, and the limited bandwidth available, it took over 15 months for NASA to receive all of the data collected during the encounter with Pluto.

In 2016, the mission was extended to take a closer look at the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth (then named 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule by NASA). The images sent back to Earth were the farthest photos ever captured by a spacecraft. The pictures showed Arrokoth as being made up of two, almost spherical, lobes.

New Horizons has enough power to be operational until the 2030s, so NASA is currently searching for another candidate object for the spacecraft to visit. No target has been found yet, but fingers-crossed that we haven’t heard the last from this extraordinary mission.

Greg and the Flamsteed audience at Mycenae House

Our thanks to Greg Smye-Rumsby for his excellent presentation, as always.

Photos from the evening by Bobby Manoo.

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