New Horizons, the mission that will reveal Pluto’s true face

Travel into the unknown. Explore the limits of the Solar System. Those are some of the objectives of New Horizons, the new NASA mission that will take us to Pluto.

Science fiction has always helped us travel beyond the limits of our imagination. Thus we have been able to step on the Moon, explore space or travel to Mars without moving from the sofa. Pluto, however, has not been one of the scenarios of the books and movies that made us dream in our childhood and adolescence.

Only the writer Larry Niven dedicated his book The world of the ptavvs to the planet that ceased to be a planet in 2006. In that year, the International Astronomical Union decided to ‘downgrade’ the Pluto category, which would begin to be considered as a dwarf planet . The reasoning proposed by the UAI determined that there were eight planets that make up the Solar System, while Ceres, Pluto and Eris would be defined from that moment as dwarf planets.

Pluto, despite not having been part of conventional science fiction, was part of our memories. Who had not studied the Solar System with nine planets? A sort of nostalgia ignited the astronomical debate, recalling the discovery made by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.

Pluto

Fortunately, the fact that Pluto is no longer a planet has not been a barrier to our thirst for knowledge. NASA, through the New Horizons mission, aims to go further than we ever could. 2015 will be the year in which we will know Pluto’s true face.

The probe was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2006, with the aim of exploring “the worlds that are on the border of our Solar System.” On its long trip, the manned ship made a brief ‘stop’ in Jupiter, to do some research and take advantage of its gravitational assistance to propel itself. Interestingly, New Horizons was three to four times closer to Jupiter than the Cassini probe itself.

When it reaches Pluto, contrary to expectations, the ship nave will pass by ’. In other words, on your trip New Horizons will not stop to orbit the dwarf planet, as do other probes such as Maven around Mars. Why? The first reason is purely technical: to reach Pluto in just ten years, the speed reached by New Horizons is very high, and if it stopped to orbit, it would need more fuel by decreasing its speed by 90%.

Pluto

The second reason is scientific. New Horizons will not only allow us to know Pluto’s less known face, but will also help characterize a part of the Kuiper belt. That is, its objectives are really ambitious, because the purpose of this mission is none other than to describe the geology and morphology of Pluto and its satellites, to determine the surface composition of these objects and their atmospheres.

In its trajectory, we can also enter the landscape that surrounds the dwarf planet. 2015 will undoubtedly be a great year for astronomy. As was the past, with the historic landing on a comet. Now the time to travel to the unknown opens, and to know the limits of our little great world. Pluto awaits us.

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