Saturday, April 9, 2011

Further up and further in, 03.21.11

New Horizons, NASA’s Pluto probe, passed a milestone on the 19th of this month. It passed the orbit of Uranus. The mission was slated at launch to take 9 ½ years before the probe even reaches its destination. Patience is a must.

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Scientists have been guiding New Horizons as it speeds through our solar system on its way out to photograph Pluto, its moons Charon, Nix, and Hydra, and maybe even encounter other objects in the Kuiper Belt (the band of dust, dwarf planets, and smaller objects that surrounds our solar system). New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft to date, travelling at a rate of approximately 36,000 miles per hour. It is expected to reach its destination by July 2015.

The Messenger (short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft also made space history last week by orbiting Mercury. The primary purpose of the $446 million, 1-year mission is to discover whether or not ice actually exists on the planet of extremes. At only an average of 35,983,605.7 miles from the sun, and too small for its gravity to retain an atmosphere, the surface is blasted with unimaginable heat on the sunny side and drops to hundreds of degrees below zero on the shady side. Messenger is the first spacecraft to visit Mercury since NASA’s Mariner 10 mission in 1970.


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