NASA officials have disclosed that their New Horizons space rocket began on Thursday its flight towards Pluto. The journey will take about 6 months and the first close flyby is appointed for 14th of July.
The New Horizons small sized space probe went through a journey that lasted nine years, in which it covered 3 billion miles (4.8 billion km). After a restful month in December, scientists planned its last outer space voyage, and on Thursday, the spacecraft was ready to go. On board, the craft carries several hi-tech instruments including a space-dust detector.
The probe has already completed the longest journey that any Earth spacecraft was ever able to travel. Now that the prime target was reached, the scientists are keen to start the outer space exploration, as New Horizons’ principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Alan Stern said.
Beginning with January 25th, the spacecraft will start sending home new photos of Pluto, using its Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, included in the probe’s on board equipment. Scientists hope that the new images will bring new light their understanding of Pluto and of its moons. But NASA explained the pictures are also essential in maneuvering the spacecraft as it flies the remaining 135 million miles (220 million km) to its final destination point, to Pluto.
Scientists say they need to learn more from the pictures about the dwarf planet’s movement and where it will be when New Horizons will attempt to fly past it. The navigation system on board the space craft that guides it is based on very specific measurement and data about timing, so it is mandatory that scientists get the flyby timing just right.
The probe will also be able to tell us more about the composition of Kuiper Belt, a less explored region of the solar system which includes Pluto and probably other small planets. After the space craft finishes its mission on Pluto, it will begin its travel further into the Kuiper Belt and will explore a couple of the dwarf, icy planets that exist in that region. It is estimated that the Kuiper Belt reaches at least one billion miles (1,6 billion km) beyond Pluto.
The closest the space craft will be to the planet’s surface will be 6,200 miles (10,000 km). Traveling at a speed of 27,000 miles (43,000 km) per hour, the New Horizons probe is scheduled to reach that point on 14th of July, this year.
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