New Horizons Space Probe

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According to MSNBC  the region around Pluto could be more dangerous than anticipated when the New Horizons spacecraft reaches the area during July of 2015. Debris is expected to be the main problem for the probe as it orbits Pluto. There are Kuiper Belt objects (space rocks), constantly bombarding the moons of Pluto. The rock and dirt that hit the moons are not held as a result of the low gravity.

The debris orbits Pluto making it a danger to the New Horizons spacecraft as it tries to make its journey around the planet. There could be something large enough to destroy the craft when it hits it. There are cameras on the probe that will observe the system around Pluto for a number of months before it gets the closest. The problem is that the cameras cannot detect the particles that would instantly destroy the probe.

Two and a half months before the launch of New Horizons there were two moons discovered for Pluto by the Hubble Space Telescope. There was a fourth moon found during July of 2012 and two more may exist. Scientists believe that there are more moons to be discovered around Pluto since three of the four were found in the recent years.  The discovery of the moons combined with the flying debris has caused another look to be taken at the safety of the mission.

A route around the moon Charon would be safe since the moon clears a path around Pluto, unless the atmosphere becomes cloudy. The route would be on the side of Pluto opposite the moon since the large moon clears a path before it, it’s safest if the path takes the path of the rings around Saturn. Scientists are continuing to use a number of telescopes on the ground, in addition to the Hubble Space Telescope, to help find other moons that might be hidden and the orbits they take. The problem is that just because they look for the moons if they are too small they may be missed even if they are in existence.

There has been the consideration of developing an escape route for the probe should it encounter danger. Scientists are continuing to search for potential dangers and ways to avoid them when the probe finally reaches its destination during 2015. There have been discussions of creating a bail out trajectory; the problem is that there is no guarantee that the safe alternative route will still be safe by the time the probe reaches Pluto’s orbit. 

More about this author: Laurie Childree

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