The New Horizons mission has been soaring through space for almost a decade to get to Pluto, which lies the mysterious third zone of the solar system. Little is known about this distant edge of space, far beyond the plants we already know so well, CNN reported.
“Our knowledge of what the Pluto system is really like will expand exponentially, and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries,” said John Grunsfeld, a NASA astronaut.
Pluto lies 3.6 billion miles out in the solar system within the comet-producing Kuiper belt, home to “mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks,” NASA said. Though Pluto was long ago demoted from the class of planets for being a bit too different, here the dwarf is right at home.
The New Horizons’ probe will soon be learning more about Pluto, its moons, and the planetary bodies like it. In July, it’ll go to Pluto’s dark side and study the planet from the light of its largest moon, Charon. This probe will be the very first to study the plant.
The probe should bring back images of Pluto‘s surface from a distance of only a few miles, added ABC News. New Horizons will also study Pluto’s atmosphere, composition, interior, and formation, and the details of its five moons.
“Fundamentally, we’re going to Pluto because it’s the human race’s first opportunity to study an entirely new class of world,” said New Horizons co-investigator William McKinnon, according to Space.
And New Horizons has already started to bring back “tantalizing glimpses of this system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
On April 9, the probe flew about 71 million miles from Pluto and took two photographs – its first color images ever. The photos have revealed that Pluto is brighter than Charon, and by July scientists may learn whether this is due to a difference in composition or an unseen atmosphere on the moon.
Whatever is out there, the New Horizons probe will find it. It took off in 2006 on an Atlas V rocket and has been flying to Pluto ever since, taking 18 naps along the way to preserve its high-tech systems; it woke up here and there to take snapshots of anything interesting along the way.
Since December, the probe has stayed awake and collected data about the Kuiper Belt. As the probe nears closer to Pluto, it’s flying farther and farther from known space and into territory man has never explored, said Green.
“We’re flying into the unknown.”
[Photos Courtesy Getty Images and YouTube Screengrab]