(The Gist of Science Reporter) NEW HORIZONS GOES WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE [MAY-2019]
(The Gist of Science Reporter) NEW HORIZONS GOES
WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE [MAY-2019]
NEW HORIZONS GOES WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE
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
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
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
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.