Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 1, 2015

Podcast Episode 135: How New Horizons Takes Photographs, Interview with Dr. John Spencer #NewHorizons

How New Horizons’
Imaging team works with the
Spacecraft photographs.

You asked for it, you got it: A podcast episode about the New Horizons spacecraft mission to Pluto. If I was going to do an episode, I wanted it to be something that you’re not going to get from NASA, not going to get from a random website about the mission or the cameras … something different and unique.

I think we did that with this episode, which is an interview with Dr. John Spencer who has been one of the primary mission planners, is co-deputy of the geology science team, and leads the search for hazards. We recorded this on June 01, but none of it is out of date other than speculation about new moons or rings – or any hazards – found. As you know from press releases, none have been found as this goes to press, though as this goes out, John Spencer and his team are actively working on the latest batch of data to be downlinked from the craft to search for more.

Anyway, the episode focuses on image processing – real image processing – and how we work with spacecraft data, and we touch a little bit on image-based conspiracies and how we’re at least going to try to not give conspiracy theorists their standard, easy ammunition (like painting over image anomalies to give a pure black area so they can claim “NASA is blacking out part of their images!!!”).

I’m hoping to bring you at least another one or two episodes about New Horizons, but we’ll see. There should be at least one more episode to come out in July despite me being home only 8 days of the month.

Disclaimer: While I am involved in the New Horizons mission, my podcast work (and anything branded under “Exposing PseudoAstronomy”) is completely separate from my work efforts. The views and opinions expressed on this episode are completely my own and don’t reflect NASA, other mission personnel, nor Southwest Research Institute.



  1. Thank you for the interview — it was very informative. It’s nice to know the “lesser” details that help make the overall mission that much more successful. I hope you can provide talks you had with some others, although you’re all probably busy right now, dealing with the aftermath of the glitch. Latest news seems to indicate this was a timing issue during preparation, that won’t be encountered again during the Pluto fly-by. Then again, that might modify or even cancel some of the object-hunting that was planned for afterward. Is there anyone who would be interesting to hear from, about how the glitch is affecting their work?

    Comment by Rick K. — July 6, 2015 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

    • Sorry, I really can’t comment beyond the public releases. What I can say is that you should take them at face-value: Nothing is worse than the press release specifically states. What that means specifically for many of the people that I work most closely with in the geology group is pretty much nothing other than we have no images to work with for a few days, but we’ll be getting better ones anyway.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — July 6, 2015 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

      • Sorry, didn’t realize I was asking for too much. In time, I’m sure we’ll see how it plays out. I’m using the Android app “Pluto Safari” to follow some of the details of the mission. The pictures taken of Pluto before the glitch look very intriguing. As you pointed out, they’ll only get better from here on in. I’m looking forward to the analysis of those pictures.

        Comment by Rick K. — July 6, 2015 @ 7:03 pm

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