Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New Horizons launch on the horizon

Of the nine planets in the Solar System (Okay, maybe there are ten. But since no official decision has been made by the Powers That Be, I'll stick to nine), only one has not been visited by a robotic probe, and that is Pluto. That will soon change, however.

Earlier this week, the New Horizons spacecraft was moved to a launch pad in Florida, preparing for a launch in late January. Despite the large rocket being used to launch this relatively lightweight (1000 pound) probe and despite a gravitational boost from Jupiter, the probe will still take 10 years to reach Pluto! And this probe will be racing along, taking only eight hours to pass the moon on its way out -- the Apollo moon missions took three days to cover that distance!

The New Horizons probe will also study at least one other of the strange Kuiper Belt objects, trying to figure out exactly where these big balls of ice formed in the early Solar System.

So, stay tuned for news of the launch, and then settle back and wait ten years to see a close-up view of Pluto!

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