The New Horizons mission

The New Horizons mission

The New Horizons space probe was launched in 2006, with the objective to study Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Geography

Keywords

New Horizons, Kuiper Belt, Pluto, dwarf planet, Charon, moons of Pluto, space probe, gravity assist maneuver, outer space, gravitation, Solar System, space research, astronomy, geography

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Scenes

Solar System

Pluto was considered the smallest planet of the Solar System until 2006. Its diameter is smaller than that of the Moon (2,372 km or 1,473.9 mi). However, it has been recategorized as the largest dwarf planet.

It is 39.5 times further from the Sun than Earth.

Its largest natural satellite is Charon. Relative to Pluto, its size is considerable (diameter: 1,208 km or 750.6 mi), their size ratio is 2 to 1, thus the Pluto-Charon system was considered as a binary planet system.

Their mass ratio is 8 to 1, their common center of mass is outside Pluto, thus they revolve around each other.

The average density of Pluto is 1.87 g/cm³ (0.0676 lb/in³). It is composed of materials compressed at high temperatures. Its surface is mainly composed of frozen nitrogen and methane, which melt during the day and create a thin atmosphere.

Average temperature: -230 °C (-382 °F)
Orbital period: about 248 Earth years
Rotation period: 6.39 days
It has 5 known moons

Definition:

Dwarf planet: A celestial body orbiting the Sun, massive enough to be spherical but has not cleared its neighboring region. The size of dwarf planets is between that of asteroids and regular planets. Trans-Neptunian dwarf planets are called plutoids.

Pluto's orbit

  • Pluto
  • Sun
  • average distance from the Sun: 5,900,000,000 km (3,666,090,034 mi)
  • orbital period: 248 years
  • Pluto's orbit - Pluto’s orbit is highly inclined relative to the ecliptic (over 17°), the inclination is the largest in the Solar System.
  • Kuiper Belt

Data:

Diameter: 2,372 km (1,473.9 mi)

( 0.19 Earths)

Mass: 1.305 x 10²² kg (2.9 x 10²² lb) (0.0021 Earths)

Average density: 1.86 g/cm³

Surface gravity: 0.063 g (1,39 × 10⁻⁴ lb)

Number of moons: 5

Average distance from the Sun:
5,906,376,272 km = 3.67 × 10⁹ mi =39.5 AU = 5.5 light hours

Orbit length: 36,530,000,000 km = 2.27 × 10¹⁰ mi = 244,18 AU

Orbital eccentricity: 0.248 807 66

Orbital period: about 248 years

Pluto's moons

  • Pluto
  • Charon
  • Styx
  • Nix
  • Kerberos
  • Hydra

Data:

Charon

Average distance from Pluto: 19,600 km (12,179 mi)
Orbital period: 6.387 days
Diameter: 1,208 km (750.6 mi)

Styx

Average distance from Pluto: 42,400 km (26,346.14 mi)
Orbital period: 20.2 days
Dimensions: 7 x 5 km (4.4 x 3.1 mi)

Nix

Average distance from Pluto: 48,700 km (30,260.8 mi)
Orbital period: 24.9 days
Dimensions: 42 x 36 km (26.1 x 22.4 mi)

Kerberos

Average distance from Pluto: 57,750 km (35,884.2 mi)
Orbital period: 32.2 days
Dimensions: 12 x 4.5 km (7.5 x 2.8 mi)

Hydra

Average distance from Pluto: 64,750 km (40,233.8 mi)
Orbital period: 38.2 days
Dimensions: 55 x 40 km (34.2 x 24.9 mi)

Pluto (dwarf planet)

  • Mapped area

Sizes

  • Pluto
  • Charon
  • Styx
  • Nix
  • Kerberos
  • Hydra

Earth
Diameter: 12,756 km (7,926 mi)
Mass: 5.974 x 10²⁴ kg (1.32 × 1025 lb)

Pluto
Diameter: 2,370 km
Mass: 1.305 x 10²² kg (2.89 × 10²² lb)

Charon
Diameter: 1,208 km (750 mi)
Mass: 1,59 x 10²¹ kg (3,51 x 10²¹ lb)

Styx
Dimensions: 7 x 5 km (4.4 x 3.1 mi)

Nix
Dimensions: 42 x 36 km (26.1 x 22.4 mi)

Kerberos
Dimensions: 12 x 4.5 km (7.5 x 2.8 mi)

Hydra
Dimensions: 55 x 40 km (34.2 x 24.9 mi)

Launch vehicle

  • first booster stage
  • RD-180 main engine - It provided a thrust of 382 tonnes for the launch.
  • solid rocket booster - There were 5 of them on the rocket.
  • second booster stage (Centaur)
  • RL-10A engine - It was ignited twice in the Centaur Phase, it assisted in escaping the Earth's gravity.
  • payload fairing - It protected the space probe against the impact of pressure and heat during the launch.
  • third booster stage
  • Star 48 B engine - It was used in the third booster stage to assist in setting the space probe on its path towards Jupiter.
  • space probe - A small spacecraft, comparable in size to a piano. Its mass at launch was about 500 kg (1,100 lb). It carries 7 scientific instruments.

Launch phases

00:00:00 Atlas V rocket burnout and launch

00:01:47 solid rocket booster (5) jettison

00:03:23 payload fairing jettison

0:04:33 main engine burnout and separation

0:04:43 Centaur stage ignition

00:41:59 Centaur burnout and separation

00:42:37 Star 48B ignition

00:47:32 Star 48B separation

New Horizons space probe

  • LORRI - A high-resolution telescopic camera with a 20.8 cm (8.2 in) diameter primary mirror. It can take images from long distances (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager)
  • Ralph - Color camera and infrared spectrometer; its function is to examine the geomorphology, composition and temperature of the surface.
  • REX - It measures atmospheric pressure, temperature and density. (Radio Science Experiment)
  • SWAP - A solar wind and plasma spectrometer; it observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind. (Solar Wind Around Pluto)
  • PEPSSI - A spectrometer sensitive enough to detect even trace amounts of escaping atmospheric gas. (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation)
  • SDC - This instrument was built and is operated by students. It measures the amount and space dust in the Solar System (Student Dust Counter)
  • RTG - A radioisotope thermoelectric generator that powers the space probe.

The New Horizons space probe was launched on January 19, 2006. Its mission is to study the Pluto-Charon system, the other 4 moons of Pluto, as well as to examine the objects of the Kuiper Belt. The space probe traveled for nine years, and completed 5 billion km (3.11×10⁹ mi) to reach Pluto.

New Horizons carries 7 scientific instruments, which are used to take photos, and examine the surface and atmosphere of Pluto. The probe also carries an instrument built by students. The function of this instrument was to measure and map the quantity and distribution of dust in the Solar System from 2012 to 2015.

Path of the space probe

New Horizons is the first space probe to be sent to Pluto, as well as the first mission sent to a binary system and to an icy dwarf planet.

It took less than a year after the launch for the space probe to reach Jupiter, where a so-called gravity assist maneuver was carried out. This maneuver is designed to increase the spacecraft's speed and alter its flight path using the orbital energy of a planet. As the spacecraft approaches the planet and flies with its movement, the planet's gravitational pull on the spacecraft increases its momentum and thus its speed.

Due to Jupiter's gravitational impetus, New Horizon's speed was increased by 14,000 km/h (8,700 mph). Meanwhile, Jupiter lost insignificant amount of its energy.

Accelerated by Jupiter's energy, the space probe continued its journey towards Pluto and flew by the planet on July 14, 2015.

Since approaching Pluto, it has been continuing its journey in the Kuiper Belt. It is now heading towards the 2014 MU₆₉, a Classical Kuiper belt object with a diameter of 45 km (28 mi). The space probe will approach it on December 31, 2019. Studying this object will help us learn more about the early history of the Solar System.

Results

  • Charon
  • Charon's surface
  • Pluto
  • Pluto: mountains and plains
  • Pluto's blue atmosphere
  • Pluto's methane ice content
  • Pluto: Tartarus Dorsa Mountains
  • Pluto's surface
  • Pluto: Tombaugh Regio
  • Pluto: a variety of surfaces

Pluto

Surface:
- High-definition pictures of Pluto's surface
- Exact diameter of Pluto
- Mountains of about 3 km (1.86 mi) height, consisting of water ice
- Convectional flows in the ice cover
- Active nitrogen glaciers
- Carbon monoxide ice, a large amount of methane ice
- The brownish-red color is caused by tholins (a substance formed from methane and ethane due to the effect of UV radiation)
- Traces of geological activity

Atmosphere:

- Pluto's present-day atmosphere is similar to the Earth's early atmosphere
- Very low surface pressure (half of that of the Earth)
- Ionized gases can be found behind Pluto at a distance of 70–110 thousand km (43,496–68,351 mi), these originate from Pluto's atmosphere and were blown away by solar wind.

Charon

Surface:
- varied surface, e.g. 1,000 km (621.4 mi) long mountain chains, 8 km (5 mi) deep canyons
- tholins at the north pole of the moon

Animation

  • Sun
  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Pluto
  • Kuiper Belt
  • Solar System
  • Pluto
  • Charon
  • Styx
  • Nix
  • Kerberos
  • Hydra
  • Mapped area
  • first booster stage
  • RD-180 main engine - It provided a thrust of 382 tonnes for the launch.
  • solid rocket booster - There were 5 of them on the rocket.
  • second booster stage (Centaur)
  • RL-10A engine - It was ignited twice in the Centaur Phase, it assisted in escaping the Earth's gravity.
  • payload fairing - It protected the space probe against the impact of pressure and heat during the launch.
  • third booster stage
  • Star 48 B engine - It was used in the third booster stage to assist in setting the space probe on its path towards Jupiter.
  • space probe - A small spacecraft, comparable in size to a piano. Its mass at launch was about 500 kg (1,100 lb). It carries 7 scientific instruments.
  • LORRI - A high-resolution telescopic camera with a 20.8 cm (8.2 in) diameter primary mirror. It can take images from long distances (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager)
  • Ralph - Color camera and infrared spectrometer; its function is to examine the geomorphology, composition and temperature of the surface.
  • REX - It measures atmospheric pressure, temperature and density. (Radio Science Experiment)
  • SWAP - A solar wind and plasma spectrometer; it observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind. (Solar Wind Around Pluto)
  • PEPSSI - A spectrometer sensitive enough to detect even trace amounts of escaping atmospheric gas. (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation)
  • SDC - This instrument was built and is operated by students. It measures the amount and space dust in the Solar System (Student Dust Counter)
  • RTG - A radioisotope thermoelectric generator that powers the space probe.

Narration

Pluto was considered the smallest planet in the Solar System until 2006, when it was recategorized as a dwarf planet. It is 39.5 times further from the Sun than the Earth is.

Pluto is the largest dwarf planet with a diameter smaller than that of the Moon. It is composed of materials compressed at high temperatures. Its surface is mainly made up of frozen nitrogen and methane, which melt during the day and create a thin atmosphere.

Its largest natural satellite is Charon. For decades, it was considered as Pluto’s only moon, but four more moons have been discovered since 2005. These are, in order of decreasing size, Hydra, Nix, Kerberos and Styx.

The diameter of Pluto is 2,372 km (1,473.9 mi), 19% of that of the Earth. Charon’s size is considerable relative to Pluto, so the Pluto-Charon system was once viewed as binary dwarf planets. The diameter of the other moons does not reach 60 km (37.3 mi).

The target of the New Horizons space probe is Pluto and its moons as well as examining the objects of the Kuiper Belt. It carries seven scientific instruments which have been used to take photographs, and examine the surface and atmosphere of Pluto. It also contains the first student-built instrument ever to have been placed on a space probe. This one maps the quantity and distribution of dust in the Solar System from 2012 to 2015.

The New Horizons space probe was launched on January 19, 2006. The space probe traveled 5 billion km (3.11×10⁹ mi) for nine years to reach Pluto. It is the first space probe to be sent to Pluto as well as the first mission sent to a binary system and to an icy dwarf planet.

It took less than a year after the launch for the space probe to reach Jupiter, where a so-called gravity assist maneuver was carried out. This maneuver is designed to increase the spacecraft’s speed and alter its flight path using the orbital energy of a planet. As the spacecraft approaches the planet and flies with its movement, the planet’s gravitational pull on the spacecraft increases its momentum and thus its speed. Due to Jupiter’s gravitational impetus, New Horizons’ speed was increased by 14,000 km/h (8,700 mph). Meanwhile, Jupiter only lost an insignificant amount of its energy.

Accelerated by Jupiter’s energy, the space probe continued its journey towards Pluto and flew by the planet on July 14, 2015. Since approaching Pluto, it has carried on its journey in the Kuiper Belt. It is now heading towards 2014 MU₆₉, a classical Kuiper Belt object with a diameter of 45 km (28 mi). The space probe will approach it on December 31, 2019.

The New Horizons’ mission has helped us gather the following information about Pluto: its exact diameter, which is bigger than had been thought before. The surface of Pluto is brownish-red and much more varied and complex than had originally been considered, while the surface air pressure is lower than expected. As well, its atmosphere is gradually being blown away by the solar wind, just as happened to the early Earth’s atmosphere. Charon also has a varied surface with a brownish-red North Pole.

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