Posted by: dacalu | 14 July 2015

Pluto on the Horizon

This evening, the New Horizons spacecraft will arrive at Pluto. In honor of this engineering marvel, here are few facts that stand out for me as we wait for the next batch of data.

The spacecraft launched a decade ago – 19 January 2016 – and has traveled nearly 3,000,000,000 miles, making it the longest trip and the farthest target in human history. That’s about 10 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. Traveling at the speed of light, data will take four and a half hours to reach us.

Pluto was discovered in 1930 and considered a planet until 2006, at which point we knew it was one of several large Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs).  We now know of at least one of similar size: Eris.

Pluto has 1/3 the volume of Earth’s Moon, but far less mass, being made up of much lighter elements.

Pluto has 5 known moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.

This will complete NASA’s survey of the once 9 planets in our system.  Here are the first NASA missions to each planet.

MercuryMariner 10 – 1974

(Later Messenger – 2011)

VenusMariner 2 – 1962

MarsMariner 4 – 1965

(Later Viking 1976 and a host of others)

JupiterPioneer 10 – 1973

(Later Voyager 1979, Galileo 1995, and several others)

Saturn – Pioneer 11 – 1979

(Later Cassini/Huygens 2004 and several others)

UranusVoyager 2 – 1986

NeptuneVoyager 2 – 1989

Congratulations to the huge crew of scientists and engineers who made this happen!  I look forward to seeing more data soon.

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