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News: Roane State associate professor honored by NASA for work on Pluto flyby

News: Roane State associate professor honored by NASA for work on Pluto flyby


Ted Stryk

Jan. 25, 2017

For years, Roane State Community College associate professor Ted Stryk has peered into powerful telescopes to explore the mysteries of outer space.

It’s his hobby and his passion.

On Jan. 19, the associate professor of philosophy and English was honored for his role in a NASA investigation of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons.

Stryk and about 200 other researchers received certificates of achievement for helping learn more about the solar system’s most distant planet, some 3 billion miles away. The ceremony was held at the applied physics lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

“This was the moment when I realized I had achieved a childhood dream of being part of the first Pluto flyby,” Stryk said. “It just really felt good to be recognized for what was a lot of hard work over many years. It was a team effort.”

An amateur astronomer since he was 10, Stryk has studied how optical systems and image processing techniques work, and in doing so, he had “worked out ways to extract the most amount of data possible.”

NASA got wind of his expertise, and Stryk in the fall of 2009 received an email from the NASA team involved in the unmanned New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto.

They wanted Stryk to talk about his image processing techniques, “and it went from there,” he said.

New Horizons launched in 2006 and the nuclear-powered spacecraft flew past Pluto in the summer of 2015.

The images transmitted back unveiled new details about the mysterious planet, its largest moon, Charon, and its four other moons.

Pluto’s surface is “very active,” Stryk said, and includes glaciers of nitrogen. Its atmosphere is a mix of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. “There’s a complex layer of hazes surrounding the planet,” Stryk said.

More details of the flyby are still coming in because the transmission back to Earth is so slow, he said.

The spacecraft is now headed toward an icy mini-world titled MU69 in the Kuiper Belt, a vast region at least a billion miles beyond the planet Neptune’s orbit.

“We think MU69 should tell us a lot about how the solar system formed,” Stryk said.

Stryk has been a full-time faculty member at Roane State since 2007. He says he teaches students how to think critically, and that helps them understand the world around them and their place in it.

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