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New Horizons

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New Horizons was launched on 19 January 2006, and is scheduled to arrive at Pluto in July 2015. The main goals of the mission are characterizing the atmosphere of Pluto, investigating its geological features, and studying the interaction of Pluto and its atmosphere with the Solar Wind. The spacecraft has 7 instruments on board (spectrometers, camera, etc.).

One of these instruments is the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter, named after the person who gave Pluto its name. The Dust Counter is an impact-based instrument, built and tested by students of the University of Colorado in Boulder ( It will measure dust impacts (and a deduced mass of the impactors) throughout the New Horizons mission, from 2.6 AU up to 40 AU away from the Sun. This will help scientists to map the distribution of the dust in the Solar System. The instrument is sensitive to particles with masses between 4e-12g and 4e-9 g. PVDF foils (Polyvinylidine Fluoride) are used that generate a charge when a particle impacts. From this charge, a mass of the impactor can be deduced (using calibrations), with a precision of a factor 2.

The key interest of the Dust Counter on New Horizons is the distance to the Sun where measurements are taken. Up to now, Pioneer 1 measured dust impacts up to 18 AU away. With New Horizons, measurements are carried out up to 40 AU, making it very interesting for research on Kuiper Belt Objects and comets. First results of the dust counter indicate an agreement of the measurements with the previous measurements of Ulysses and Galileo up to a distance of 5 AU.

The Heidelberg Dust Group cooperates with the University of Colorado in Boulder. You might visit the home page of the Student Dust Counter at the University of Colorado.