The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Horizons Spacecraft Closes in on Pluto

Artist's concept courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/
Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)
In July of 2015, a robotic spacecraft a long time on the road will fly past the now demoted once upon a time planet Pluto ... now a "plutoid" or "planetessimal" ... to give us our first close up view of our frosty outrider near the solar system Kuiper Belt boarder lands. New Horizons began the trip in 2006, and is only the fifth probe to travel so far outward from the sun. It is the first robot to swing past Pluto, ever. So far, the intrepid long haul traveler has been on this road trip for 3035 days and has another 334 days before observations begin in earnest. Closest approach is still 427 days away. Once again we are reminded how very big our solar system is. At the time of this writing, as New Horizons draws near the orbit of Neptune, it remains 4 AU from Pluto (an AU being the distance between the Earth and the Sun). That's a long way ... but child's play compared to the distance already covered.

Another name given to Pluto, one of the largest examples of this type of body, is an ice dwarf. Ice dwarfs are "planetary embryos" and the Kuiper Belt is full of them. Pluto is also doing something no other body outside the comets does. It is shedding atmosphere like a comet and New Horizons will hopefully find out why. The long endurance probe is also hopefully going to shed light on comets that come in and give Earth a swat from time to time so we can learn a little more about that as well.

If all goes well, I have heard there is thought being given to finding another target to explore once New Horizons passes Pluto. This should get interesting out on the icy frontier. Stay tuned for next summer. It'll be some cool viewing on those hot, sultry days in July. 

No comments: