Today in New Delhi, India
Oct 19, 2018-Friday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Here we come, Pluto

It seems to have been third time lucky for New Horizons, the first space mission to Pluto. After bad weather forced Nasa to stand down two earlier launch attempts, it was good to see New Horizons finally blast off last Thursday on its three-billion-mile journey to the edge of the Solar System.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2006 00:50 IST
None

It seems to have been third time lucky for New Horizons, the first space mission to Pluto. After bad weather forced Nasa to stand down two earlier launch attempts, it was good to see New Horizons finally blast off last Thursday on its three-billion-mile journey to the edge of the Solar System. After exploring Pluto and its moon system, the probe will visit large objects in the Kuiper Belt, the Solar System’s outer reaches where thousands of icy, rocky objects — including comets and small planets like Pluto — graze.

Astronomers could so far only conjecture what lies at the fringes of the Solar System. For instance, the sun blows a bubble of charged particles into space called ‘heliosphere’, and spacecraft would experience a bow-shock when they encounter this. If New Horizons relays this experience back to Earth, it will help researchers understand potentially damaging galactic weather that could one day affect Earth. The Solar System doesn’t quite end at the orbit of Pluto, or at the ‘heliopause’ boundary where outer space actually begins.

New Horizons is the best bet yet to provide the first physical evidence for all this, as only two spacecraft — Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 — have ever come this close to planets of the outer Solar System. In fact, between them, Voyagers 1 and 2 have explored all the giant planets of the sun’s family — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — sending back amazing details. In that sense, the success of New Horizons will also signal the completion of the initial exploration of the nine planets that defined the Solar System at the beginning of the Space Age.

First Published: Jan 21, 2006 00:50 IST