Mission Pluto – a historic journey

Posted on Jul 17 2015 - 11:05am by sachin KM
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From the time immemorial, man has been constantly longing to explore the sheer immensity of this universe. Whenever he found something new, he felt something extremely joyful with in him & went for something more. For the last few days, there is so much of talk about the planet Pluto in the world because of the euphoria that has been created by the scientific fraternity. After 9 years of journey from the earth, NASA’s ‘ New Horizons ‘ spacecraft finally reached Pluto. Here we are simply going through some of the interesting facts regarding the fascinating journey.

  • New Horizons is the first spacecraft to explore Pluto, its moons and is the fastest spacecraft ever launched from earth. It was launched on January 19, 2006 at about 36,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft flew about 7,800 miles above the Pluto’s surface and finished its more than 3 billion mile journey.
  • New Horizons can’t depend upon the solar energy since Pluto is about 4 billion miles away from the sun. So the Plutonium is nuclear fuel used to power the spacecraft.
  • Along its way to Pluto, it flew by multiple planets like Jupiter & Neptune and captured the images of them.
  • Pluto’s status as a planet was questioned when another object similar to its mass called Eris discovered. Finally after the launch of New Horizons, the status has changed. Pluto is called as dwarf planet & it is the largest dwarf planet in the solar system(2,360km in diameter).
  • The spacecraft has seven instruments on board namely PEPSI(Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation), REX( Radio Science Experiment), SWAP( Solar Wind Around Pluto), LORRI( Long Range Reconnaissance Imager), Student Dust Counter, Alice, Ralph.
  • The largest moon of Pluto is Charon. Months before its launch, two moons called Nix and Hydra were discovered and during the course of mission, Styx and Kerberos were also spotted by the astronomers.
  • Pluto exists in a part of space known as Kuiper belt, a region of the solar system extending from the orbit of Neptune which is a group of icy objects.
  • Images from the New Horizons show that Pluto is a distant icy world on the edge of solar system. It has a varied terrain with dark patches on the equator and brighter regions to the north. The sensors detected a thin nitrogen atmosphere extending far out in to space. The coloring of the surface suggest that it a concentration of frozen methane & nitrogen.
  • Other facts reveal that Pluto is larger than previously thought of and it contains more ice beneath its surface than the scientists had expected.
  • Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and the mission is carrying the ashes of him.
  • The Kuiper belt starts right after Pluto. So if everything goes well, New horizons has enough fuel left to explore new dimensions of Solar system. 

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