Saturday, November 29, 2014

At the Edge of Beyond

Later this week, the New Horizons probe from NASA will "wake up" and begin manuevers to bring it on course for Pluto.

The probe was launched in 2006 and has been in a sleep mode for much of its journey to save wear and tear on the electronics and reduce mission costs. Scientists hope to use it to study Pluto proper and some of its moons including Charon, the largest. This will be the first detailed study mission of what used to be thought of as the ninth planet until its reclassification by the International Astronomical Union in 2006. The reclassification happened after the launch, but there was no real way to tell the probe not to bother because it was only headed towards a little old dwarf planet anyway.

In fact, it's a bit of a chore to tell New Horizons anything these days, as it is far enough away from the Earth that signals take five hours to make the journey from home base to spacecraft, and then five hours to come back the other way. This may be one reason why parents of teenagers were selected for the Mission Control team, as they are used to significant delays in response to communication.

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