A spacecraft is nearing Pluto after a long journey which lasted nearly nine years. The New Horizons probe awoke from hibernation in early December.
Pluto was initially discovered as a planet the farthest away from the sun in 1930. In 2006, Pluto was then reclassified as a dwarf planet located in the Kuiper Belt which is a swarm of icy objects far beyond the realm of true planets. The Kuiper Belt is actually one of the last unexplored regions of our solar system. This, along with another distant Oort Cloud, are band of icy bodies that may produce the comets we see.
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New Horizon’s observation
The New Horizon probe will start the observation on January 15th. Hal Weaver (project scientist from Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University in Maryland) explained, “New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we’ve never seen, in a place we’ve never been before. For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them.”
The plan for the New Horizons probe
The probe will make its closest approach to dwarf the planet by mid-July. Before that, the probe will beam back images of Pluto and its moons. The images are said to be better than any images obtained by the Hubble Telescope. The New Horizons was brought out of hibernation during a ‘watershed event’.
New Horizons first launched on January 19th, 2006. It spent a total of 1873 days in hibernation as a way to limit use of electrical components and reduce system failures. The hibernation technique for the probe was pioneered by NASA. Just last August, the probe was programmed for the December wake-up. Right out of hibernation, mission control placed New Horizons for a final system check and course correction.