McKinnon’s research focuses on the icy satellites of the outer solar system and the physics of impact cratering. The last twenty odd years of planetary exploration can be characterized by both the unveiling of the outer solar system – initially by the Voyager missions, but now by the Galileo mission to Jupiter as well as ground- and space-based telescopes – and the growing realization of the importance of impacts in solar system evolution. Professor McKinnon and his students and colleagues are dedicated to exploring this frontier, concentrating on the origin, structure, evolution, and bombardment history of outer planet satellites and Pluto. This includes understanding the relative importance of large impacts, orbital dynamics, and internal processes for tectonics and other surface modifications, the origin and evolution of impactor populations, and the cratering mechanics in ice and other targets.
William B. McKinnon, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, will deliver the McDonnell Distinguished Lecture on Wednesday, March 29, on the Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis.
What gives Mordor Macula, the red dusted polar region of Pluto’s moon Charon, its color? New Horizons scientists, including Washington University’s Bill McKinnon, answer the question in the current issue of Nature.
Using computer models, New Horizons team members have been able to determine the depth of the layer of solid nitrogen ice within Pluto’s distinctive “heart” feature — a large plain informally known as Sputnik Planum — and how fast that ice is flowing. “For the first time, we can really determine what these strange welts of the icy surface of Pluto really are,” said William B. McKinnon, who led the study.
The odd-looking mountains on Jupiter’s innermost moon, Io, are made by a tectonic process unique to Io (and maybe the early Earth), suggests a numerical experiment by two scientists, including Washington University’s Bill McKinnon.
While at Washington University, Kelsi Singer noticed Bill McKinnon’s bumper sticker, “My other vehicle is on its way to Pluto.” Today, she works on the New Horizons mission and has her own sticker: “My other vehicle explored Pluto.”