Fastest spacecraft ever created is honing in on Pluto: What data are scientists expecting to collect?
The existence of Pluto has been known for decades, yet so little is known of the tiny rock that was classified as a Planet, but is now seen as a dwarf Planet. In the coming years, however, humanity may finally unlock the little guy's secrets, and maybe, just maybe, Pluto could be viewed as a full-blown Planet again by the scientific community.
Pluto is the most mysterious giant piece of lifeless rock in our solar system. The average distance between Pluto and our Sun is around 5.9 billion kilometers. From Earth to Pluto, we're looking at a shorter 3 billion kilometers. Because of the distance, traveling from Earth to Pluto has always been seen as a difficult proposition; however, things have changed.
NASA launched a rocket back in 2006 that is called the New Horizons. This rocket is capable of going at speeds up to 43,000 kilometers per hour. Eight years after New Horizons took flight, the rocket is now closing in on its target, and it could take around a year before it goes within 10,000 kilometers of Pluto.
By the year 2015, this rocket should allow scientists to collect well needed data about Pluto, but they would likely be racing against the clock. Because of the New Horizon's speed and its lightweight design, it is impossible for it to slow down, so scientists are expected to have a short amount of time to collect data from Pluto.
The only data scientists will have the chance to collect are images. However, much can be learned from just looking at a mere image.
For those unaware, the New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever created by NASA.
After blowing past Pluto, New Horizons work is expected to continue, but to what end, we have no idea.
"To me, it doesn't matter because it is what it is, regardless of what label you put on it," says Mark Holdridge, New Horizons' Encounter Mission Manager. "It doesn't really change what it is....Regardless of how big or small it may be, it's still going to be as interesting."
"It's all about discovery and just figuring out another piece of the puzzle of our solar system," Holdridge added.
It'll be interesting to see what awesomeness is waiting to be found on Pluto, or if this dwarf planet is nothing but ice and fog.