In our previous article, we discussed about the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth and which has ventured out from Solar System: the New Horizons space probe. Today we will continue from where we left and discuss about the second (and most important) of the three phases of the New Horizons’ space probe journey i.e. Pluto.
New Horizons was more than 203 million kilometers (126,000,000 mi) away from Pluto when it began taking the photos, which showed Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. The mission’s science objectives are grouped into three distinct priorities. Few from each of them are listed as follows:
Primary objectives (required): Characterize the global geology, morphology, chemical compositions of Pluto and Charon (Pluto’s largest moon).
Secondary objectives (expected): Characterize Pluto’s ionosphere. Search for neutral species such as molecular hydrogen, hydrocarbons, hydrogen cyanide, and other nitriles in the atmosphere. Map any additional surfaces of outermost moons: Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx.
Tertiary objectives (desired): Refine bulk parameters (radii, masses) and orbits of Pluto and Charon. Search for additional moons and any rings.
The New Horizons flyby of the Pluto system was fully successful, meeting and in many cases exceeding, the Pluto objectives set out for it by NASA. The download of the complete data set (6.25 GB) through the 2 kbps data downlink took just over 15 months.
Some of the photos taken by the space probe are as follows:
The New Horizons’ team received a mission extension through 2021 to explore additional Kuiper belt objects (KBOs). During this Kuiper Belt Extended Mission (KEM), the spacecraft has performed a close fly-by of 486958 Arrokoth. This will be the topic for discussion of our next article.