Planet Earth bridges great divide
The New Horizons spacecraft, set for lift-off on Tuesday, will be the fastest spacecraft ever launched, zooming past the moon in nine hours and reaching Jupiter in just over a year.india Updated: Jan 16, 2006 11:04 IST
Stardust returns with comet samples after 7 years while New Horizons is all set for Mission Pluto
The New Horizons spacecraft, set for lift-off on Tuesday, will be the fastest spacecraft ever launched, zooming past the moon in nine hours and reaching Jupiter in just over a year at a speed nearly 100 times that of a jetliner.
Its target is Pluto the solar system’s last unexplored planet, 5 bn km from Earth. Pluto, a tiny, icy misfit of a planet neither resembles the rocky bodies of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, nor the giant planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
For years after its discovery 75 years ago, it was considered a planetary oddball. But now astronomers have come to realise that Pluto’s class of planetary bodies, ice dwarfs, isn’t so odd after all.
When the 2.1-meter-tall New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto as early as 2015, the spacecraft will study the planet’s largest moon, Charon, as well as two other moons just discovered last year.
A space capsule ferrying the first comet dust samples to Earth parachuted to a pre-dawn landing in the Utah desert on Sunday, drawing cheers from elated scientists.
The touchdown capped a seven-year journey by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft, which raced past a comet in 2004 to capture minute dust particles and store them in the capsule for the homecoming.
A helicopter recovery team was headed to the landing site to retrieve the capsule and transfer it to a clean room on the base. It will be flown later this week to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Once opened, they will find the microscopic bits trapped in a porous, pale-blue smoke-like material made up of 99.8 per cent air that was used to snag the dust in space. Comets are frozen bodies of ice and dust from 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was formed.
First Published: Jan 16, 2006 10:52 IST