Pluto, The Kuiper Belt and Beyond

On January 19th, 2006 New Horizons launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral, Florida and the rest is history. Well, history making because Alan Stern and his New Horizons team did what no one else could do, they gave us Pluto.

Turning a point of light into reality.

Before the New Horizons missionpluto-hst-nh-comparison the Hubble telescope was our best source for capturing pictures of Pluto but unfortunately it lacked depth and detail. Little was know about the planet (Oh yes, I went there) but thanks to the New Horizons team we now know the most we ever have about this distant object with an elliptical orbit and heart-shaped patch of terrain. We told Pluto “We love you!” and it definitely sent that love back. This is one space object that definitely wears its heart on its sleeve. On July 14th, 2015 New Horizons flew over Pluto making it the first spacecraft to reach and explore the distant planet. It may have taken 9.5 years to reach Pluto but anything this good is worth waiting for.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” ~ Albert Einstein 

Eleven years later to the day Alan Stern, Principal Investigator at Southwest Research Institute along with Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, Glen Fountain, New Horizons (encounter) project manager at APL, Kelsi Singer, New Horizons co-investigator at Southwest Research Institute and Helene Winters, New Horizons project manager at APL spoke to the public via a Facebook live-stream about where the New Horizons spacecraft will be going next. There were plenty of smiles to go around as the team started talking about where New Horizons was going next and rightly so because going deeper into the Kuiper Belt isn’t something that happens everyday.

 

nh-thumb-kbo-8-25-15
Artist sketch of MU69 and New Horizons in the Kuiper Belt

On January 1st, 2019 New Horizons will flyby MU69 which is quoted as being “a typical Kuiper Belt object” yet to us humans I am sure it is anything but typical. Although most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen elements we find on earth, such as methane, ammonia and water one can’t help but look at it like an exotic gem. One question that was asked that I have often thought about was this: Are there any threats to the spacecraft? And the answer is, traveling three billion miles away, threats are definitely a possibility but there are back up plans/routes if threats are found. The most typical threats are debris and lets face it the Kuiper Belt is full of that but nothing will stop New Horizons from helping us learn the building blocks of the solar system!

kuiper-belt

I, for one, am very excited about where New Horizons is going, yes I may be a tad biased but considering this is my favorite mission you can see why I am waiting with bated breath.

Now if we could just get the New Horizons team to put a rover on Pluto…

Now for some New Horizons and Pluto facts:

  • The Spacecraft is traveling at about 35,000 MPH.
  • It was the fastest spacecraft to launch from earth.
  • The team is in contact with New Horizons on a daily basis.
  • Glen Fountain stated that New Horizons has enough power to go until the mid 2030’s.
  • There is no “cooling off” for Pluto! it is very much geologically alive.
  • Pluto is about the size of North America.
  • Jupiter gave New Horizons a gravity assist.

 

I will leave you with this.pluto-halo-1600

Inspiration can come from anywhere at anytime and it’s usually when we least expect it. I decided to start writing again because of someone who made me realize I shouldn’t be afraid of who I am and that I still have a fire burning inside of me. So thank you for seeing something in me that I couldn’t see in myself and for being a part my life and because of you the number 13 will never be the same again.

 

  • As always you can find me on Twitter: @GalileoMoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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