Is Anybody There?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh Sabaoth" Zach 4:6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dio di Signore, nella Sua volontà è nostra pace!" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin 1759

Monday, January 29, 2007

New Horizons Spacecraft: 1st Stop Jupiter

A year ago NASA launched the New Horizons probe towards Pluto. At the time Pluto was still classified as a planet. Since then the International Astronomical Union voted in a controvertial decision to demote Pluto from a planet to a new class called dwarf planets.

That hasn't stopped the New Horizons Spacecraft from its journey. In fact the spacecraft is about to go into high gear, FULL SPEED AHEAD mode. On 28 February it will make its closest approach to Jupiter. It will use Jupiter's gravity as an accelotator to add 9,000 miles (14,484 kilometers) per hour to its velocity. This will enable it to arrive at Pluto in July 2015.
& like the typical tourist New Horizons will take plenty of pictures & gather other souvenirs while traveling through the Jovian system.
In fact Jupiter will be the 1st big test of New Horizons abilities. According to a NASA news release the flyby will "(P)ut the probe's systems and seven science instruments through the paces of more than 700 observations of Jupiter and its four largest moons. The planned observations from January through June include scans of Jupiter's turbulent, stormy atmosphere; a detailed survey of its ring system; and a detailed study of Jupiter's moons.
The spacecraft also will take the first-ever trip down the long "tail" of Jupiter's magnetosphere, a wide stream of charged particles that extends tens of millions of miles beyond the planet, and the first close-up look at the "Little Red Spot," a nascent storm south of Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot. "
The release also goes on to say: "Much of the data from the Jupiter flyby will not be sent back to Earth until after the spacecraft's closest approach to the planet. New Horizons' main priority during the Jupiter close approach phase is to observe the planet and store data on its recorders before orienting its main antenna to transmit information home beginning in early March."
"Our highest priority is to get the spacecraft safely through the gravity assist and on its way to Pluto," says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo. "We also have an incredible opportunity to conduct a real-world encounter stress test to wring out our procedures and techniques, and to collect some valuable science data."
After leaving the Jovian system it will travel for 8 years until it reaches Pluto. There it will "conduct a five-month-long study of Pluto and its three moons in 2015. Scientific research will include studying the global geology, mapping surface compositions and temperatures, and examining Pluto's atmospheric composition and structure."
After that it will continue through the Kuiper Belt. Depending on circumstances a "potential extended mission would conduct similar studies of one or more smaller worlds in the Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, rocky, icy planetary building blocks far beyond Neptune's orbit." This portion of the mission is expected to last from 2016 to 2020.
The spacecraft's instruments were selected to ask such questions as: "What is its atmosphere made of, and how does it behave? What does the surface of Pluto look like? Are there big geological structures? How do particles ejected from the sun (known as the solar wind) interact with Pluto's atmosphere?" The spacecraft will communicate with Earth through NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN).
According to NASA the spacecraft is 5.55 Astronomical Units (AU) from Earth, .32 AU from Jupiter & 26.64 AU from Pluto. One AU is the average distance between the Sun and Earth, about 93 million miles or 149.6 million kilometers.
As an aside, I am happy that they are finally getting to Pluto. There were plans to do this from the time of the Voyager missions. Unfortunately, the mission kept getting delayed. I also reccomend checking out the hyperlinks to find out more about the mission.
Photo:Pluto (L) & Charon NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's European Space Agency's Faint Object Camera

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