• These phrases from the opening sequence of the popular sci-fi series, Star Trek, evoke thrill and adventure, palpable to this day, humans are innately curious to explore what lies beyond the visible in search of new frontiers.
  • It is indeed interesting to be living in times where we, no longer confined to the earth alone, are expanding our horizons and reaching other worlds in the skies. Although we are still in the infant stages of space travel, the past few years have witnessed quantum leaps in exploring our neighbourhood. We accosted the giant planets, even reached tile stars with a solar probe and gathered valuable data to give us an insight into the probability of extraterrestrial life Along with these stupendous records. We are also on an endeavor to build homes nearly celestial bodies.
  • Amidst all the excitement, one mission stands out. Filled with adventure and enigma that could verity run parallel to that of the Star Trek franchise is the iconic crusader of the New Horizon. This spacecraft's voyage is out to seek new worlds and go beyond our frontiers.
  • Exhibiting remarkable tenacity, NASA's robotic probe to Pluto. New Horizons, travelled an arduous seven billion kilometres and nine years, going beyond the cold Neptune to reach the frigid Pluto and its moons. The notable achievement puts NASA in the elite position of being the only organisation to have visited all the planets of our solar system.
  • Having reached Pluto, the spacecraft was still bubbling with energy and not ready to call it quits. In robust health despite the sojourn, it outlived its tenure of a decade and was ready to explore further, prompting NASA to extend its mission by a few more years.
  • The piano-sized machine journeyed the abyss of deep space for a billion miles beyond Pluto in search of strange worlds at the farthest frontiers of our solar system. It survived the vagaries of space with aplomb, and on New Year’s Day 2019, the Earth received a gift of the stunning visuals of a 4.6-billion year-old primordial space object.
  • By now. New Horizons had trekked non-stop for twelve years at tremendous speeds, regardless of which it was able to hunt down and engage with a tiny, 20-mile-long space resident - 486958 2014 MU09 - adding another feather to its cap.

The Kuiper Belt

  • In the forties and fifties, astronomers predicted that our solar system could have a faraway suburb filled with tiny frozen objects. Jan Oort proposed that this region could be the source of comets that strike the earth from time to lime.
  • In 1951, Gerard Kuiper theorized that beyond the chilly Neptune lies a doughnut-shaped region filled with trillions of tiny, icy volatiles. This region now known as the Kuiper Belt and the objects as Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO), is the frigid zone of the solar system, a billion kilometers away from Neptune. In the elliptical, ring-shaped Kuiper Belt, spanning 4-7 billion kilometres, small space objects traverse in eccentric, ever-changing and unpredictable orbits. Pluto is one prominent denizen of this region.
  • For 76 years, Pluto enjoyed the status of a planet. However, in 2006, astronomers reassigned it as a dwarf planet, as it did not accurately fit into a planet’s definition.
  • Beyond Kuiper Belt lies the Oort cloud, a spherical plane of objects. These two regions have remnants from the early days of the solar system. Exploring them could provide valuable insights into the birth of the solar system.

New Frontiers Program

  • Compelled by the mysteries hidden deep within our solar system, NASA devised the Integrated Exploration Strategy under the consensus of the planetary' community to start the New Frontiers Program in 2002, Along with Juno and the OSIRIS Rex mission, New Horizons was a part of the New Frontiers program. In a daring, never-before-conceived mission, a 400-kilo human-made robotic probe set out to explore the frigid edge of the solar system and engage with Pluto on an illustrious odyssey.

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Courtesy: Science Reporter