Saturday, January 20, 2007

52,000 MPH - Gravity-well Surfin' is the Ultimate Thrill

New Horizons targets Jupiter kick

The New Horizons probe is bearing down on Jupiter and a flyby that will swing the spacecraft out to Pluto.
The US mission was already the fastest ever launched, but the extra kick from the gas-giant's gravity will ensure it arrives at the dwarf planet by 2015. [...]

The $700m (£350m) probe was launched in January last year to gather information on Pluto and its moons.

The Jupiter pass is needed to accelerate New Horizons away from the Sun by an additional 14,500km/h (9,000 mph), pushing it past 84,000km/h (52,000 mph). This will shorten the journey time to Pluto by four years.

The probe will make more than 700 observations of the gas-giant and its four largest moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. [...]

Long before it approaches Pluto, New Horizons will start collecting data. The first maps of Pluto and its biggest moon Charon will be made three months before the July 2015 rendezvous.

During a day-long close flyby, ultraviolet emissions from Pluto's atmosphere will be measured and the best quality maps of Pluto and Charon, including surface detail, will be made.

New Horizons will go to about 10,000km (6,200 miles) from Pluto and about 27,000km (16,800 miles) from Charon, before pressing onwards.

The spacecraft will look back at the "far side" of the pair to spot haze, look for rings and examine the objects' surfaces.

With extra [NASA] approval and funding, the probe will then be maintained to travel on to other objects in the Kuiper Belt, a region of space that contains many frozen leftovers from the construction of our Solar System.

"Going to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is very new; it's the new frontier," said [Dr. Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the principal investigator on the NASA mission]. "It's opening up both a window on the deep outer Solar System and a window back in time, 4.5 billion years to the birth of the planets."

Pluto facts:

Observations confirm Pluto has at least three moons
Orbits Sun every 248 years; surface temperature -233 C
Rotates every 6.8 days; gravity about 6% of Earth's
Resigned from solar system in 2006, citing "desire to spend more time with family", but has agreed to a part-time consulting position as "dwarf planet".


Blogger Duck said...

Spend more time with family? Not likely. I've always found Pluto to be distant and cold. Hard to warm up to. I've heard that half of the time it keeps it's "partner" Charon in the shadows, hogging the sunlight for itself.

January 20, 2007 5:03 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I read in Star magazine that Charon said in an interview that it was happy to be "the wind beneath Pluto's wings", so maybe it's a case of an introvert/extrovert match.

January 21, 2007 4:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

To me, this story highlights why the Fermi Paradox is illusory.

OT: It would be nice if Blogger counted as a trusted commenter anyone who had posted a previous comment with word verification.

How hard could that be?

January 21, 2007 5:47 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

To me, this story highlights why the Fermi Paradox is illusory.

Because it takes so long to get anywhere ?

Solar sail + nuclear drives are the best current answer to that.

January 22, 2007 1:55 AM  

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