The outer space has always been a subject of much interest not only to the scientists and researchers but also the common people. What lies beyond the earth? How does it look like? What are the stars made of? What lies beyond the solar system? Is there life on some other planet too?? Do aliens exist? What is the space made up of? What is the new horizon??
Many questions like these. The answer to few are known and the rest still being found. It does sound fascinating to study all these things and get to the unknown space that exists. Recently the new year got just more exciting for the scientists at NASA. The NASA’s New Horizons completed the task of flying by the most distant object ever known to earth.
What is NASA’s New Horizons?
New Horizons is the interplanetary space probe. A space probe is an object that does not orbit the earth, it explores the outer space. It may approach the moon, orbit around the other planetary objects and do a flyby. NASA launched New Horizon in 2006. The primary mission of the spacecraft was to perform a flyby study of Pluto in 2015. The spacecraft’s secondary mission was to fly by and study objects in the Kuiper belt. It is the 5th space probe having the velocity to leave the solar system.
New Horizons’ work
The New Horizons has completed its fly-by of Ultima Thule on Jan 1. Ultima Thule is a fossil from the beginning of the solar system. It is more than a billion miles farther from Earth than Pluto. Though the fly-by is done the mission is yet to be completed. New Horizons still has the images of the Ultima Thule that it needs to send back home. New horizons still have to send the images, study the Kuiper belt and one day leave the solar system. This is just a milestone and not the ultimate destination.
With the target achieved, the condition of the spacecraft is a topic of concern. Though it does not appear to be an issue now 13 years into space is a long time. The spacecraft cannot send images if it isn’t in working condition. During the flyby, the New Horizons has collected almost 7 gigabytes of data. This data is now to be transferred back to earth. With 1000 bits per second which is the speed of transfer of the spacecraft, it will take 20 months to transfer the complete information it has collected.
The huge distance of it from the earth makes data transfer much slower. However, the work of transfer won’t be starting immediately. The transfer of the data will be interrupted by the sun’s environment from Jan 4 to Jan 9. The data transfer is expected to begin after that.
The data transfer priorities
Though the accomplishment of the target was a huge thing, the information is what all this was done for. The information of the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) will be transferred according to the priority decided upon its importance.
The information regarding the geology and composition of the KBO will be sent first. Also, along with this, the information regarding the rings and the moons will be sent in the same string.
In the second string will contain information related to dust escape, craters, and physical surface properties.
Once the earth receives this information then the less priority information of mass and density and more detailed study about the rings and moon will come to earth.
With the completion of this target, the New Horizons aims to find new KBOs along its path. The New Horizons houses a better imager than its predecessor. The New Horizons uses the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) to find the KBOs along the path. LORRI can capture thousands of images on its way. The team is now working in programming software that would study these images and search for a target and send back only those images. Researchers are still working on it.
The New Horizons flew past Ultima Thule at a speed of 14 kilometers per second. This speed is enough to break free from the sun’s gravitational force. The New Horizons can cross the sun’s environment. But no model can predict when that would happen.
With each project and mission, the advancements are growing better. The success of New Horizons will extend the horizons of human knowledge giving us information and direction into the wider space. There definitely exists something beyond the solar system, and the times to come definitely hold the answers to the earth’s questions.