We are almost ready to explore Pluto! How cool is that?
i09 – By: George Dvorsky – “At 3:00 PM ET on Saturday, a pre-set alarm clock roused New Horizons from its hibernation mode. Owing to the extreme distance, NASA received confirmation at 9:30 PM ET, some 6.5 hours later.
New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. The probe will not be stationed in orbit around the dwarf planet. Mission planners say there are two reasons for this:
The first is an engineering reason. To get to Pluto (which is 5 billion kilometers or 3 billion miles from Earth) in just 9.5 years, as New Horizons will, the spacecraft must travel very, very quickly. As a result, New Horizons will speed by Pluto at a velocity of about 43,000 kilometers per hour (27,000 miles per hour). To get into orbit, operators would have to reduce that speed by over 90%, which would require more than 1,000 times the fuel that New Horizons can carry.
The second reason is scientific: If we did stop to go into orbit, we wouldn’t be able to go on to explore the Kuiper Belt!
The $700 million mission has the following objectives:
- Map the surface composition of Pluto and Charon
- Characterize geology and morphology (“the look”) of Pluto and Charon
- Characterize the neutral atmosphere of Pluto and its escape rate
- Search for an atmosphere around Charon
- Map surface temperatures on Pluto and Charon
- Search for rings and additional satellites around Pluto
- Conduct similar investigations of one or more Kuiper Belt Objects
The New Horizons spacecraft is roughly 8 feet (2.5 meters) across and weighs about 1,050 pounds (480 kilograms) — about half a ton. It’s about the size and shape of a baby grand piano.It carries seven scientific instruments:
Alice: An ultraviolet spectrometer used for measuring gas composition
Ralph: An infrared spectrometer (LEISA) for mapping surface composition and a color optical imager (MVIC) for mapping surface structure and composition
REX: A radio experiment for measuring atmospheric composition and temperature
LORRI: An optical telescope that provides the highest resolution imaging of the surface
PEPSSI: A plasma-sensing instrument for measuring particles escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere
SWAP A plasma-sensing instrument for measuring the properties of the solar wind at Pluto, Pluto’s atmospheric escape rate, and for searching for a magnetosphere around Pluto. The “solar wind” is a stream of charged particles streaming away from the Sun at high speed.
SDC: An instrument used to measure dust impacts at the New Horizons spacecraft during its entire trajectory
What an amazing time for space exploration! Just a few weeks ago we were bouncing probes off a comet, and now, in addition to New Horizons, we can expect Dawn to arrive at Ceres.”