In a dark auditorium with seats facing two large projection screens, Florida Space Institute's Alan Stern spoke to an audience about NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.
On Monday, at the Science Café — which usually takes place once every spring and fall semester — guests were invited to enjoy snacks and beverages at 6:30 p.m. in UCF's Classroom Building 2, and then make their way to room 101 for the scheduled presentation from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Chief Scientific Officer Stern enlightened the wide variety of audience members with information and images of the spacecraft that will make its closest encounter with Pluto on July 14.
For 25 years, NASA had been trying to build a spacecraft that would have the ability to reach Pluto, but the ideas had just been wiped off the board.
On Jan. 19, 2006, the New Horizons mission launched and has been in the works at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ever since — astronomers have not given up on this mission to Pluto.
"What I'm most excited to see is what's there," Stern said. "This is real exploration, where we don't know much of anything right now."
The New Horizons mission is the fastest spacecraft to ever be launched by NASA, and will begin a five-month long inspection of Pluto and its moons this summer.
The spacecraft consists of seven scientific instruments, one being the first ever student-built piece, to better evaluate Pluto's surface, atmosphere, mass and moons. At least five moons have already been discovered, Charon being the largest (the size of the state of Texas).
"My science team expects to find more moons as we get closer," Stern said.
The best photograph of Pluto that is currently available looks like a round, fuzzy dot. But by July, NASA plans to receive high-resolution photos of Pluto from the spacecraft.
If Pluto were to be compared to Earth, photographs would be detailed enough to clearly zoom into the specific ponds of Central Park in New York City.
"I don't want to remember this mission as the next one that got cancelled," Stern said. "There are a lot of discoveries to be made."
Rachel Stuart is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.