Wednesday, 15 July 2015

New Horizons and silly statements

I was quite excited to see the wonderful images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizon probe.


Click here to see the image on NASA's Twitter page

The Australian (my daily paper of choice) carried an article by Michio Kaku of the Wall Street Journal, telling us a little about the mission. Click here to read the original article.

I was intrigued with the headline “Pluto mission New Horizons may save us on Earth”. I was worried that somehow Pluto was going to be related to climate change, but was relieved that the claim was only that knowing more about comets would have saved the dinosaurs.

A bit of a stretch, I thought.

Two sentences in particular caught my eye:

“But first, scientists need to know if it survived the chaotic Kuiper Belt, the region beyond Neptune which Stern has described as a “shooting gallery” of cosmic debris.

NASA expects to receive a signal from the spacecraft later on Tuesday to find out whether or not the spacecraft made it through intact.”

Make it through the Kuiper belt? By Tuesday?  Read about the Kuiper belt by clicking here.

The Kuiper belt is a vast donut shaped area filled with rocks, lumps of ice and other spacecraft hazards.

The entire belt extends from 30 to about 55 AU from the Sun.

An AU or Astronomical Unit is a measure of distance used by astronomers when dealing with Solar System sized distances. It’s the distance from the Sun to the Earth and about 93 million miles or 149.6 million kilometres.

The main part of the belt starts at about 40 AU from the Sun and extends to about 48 AU. That will be the most hazardous part of the journey for New Horizons.

At present, New Horizons (and Pluto) are about 33 AU from the Sun. Click here to see more about New Horizons and Pluto. Its only 2 AU into the belt and is still about 8 AU from the main belt.

At it’s present speed of about 50,000 kilometres per hour, it’ll take 2.4 years for it to reach the start of the main belt, 5.2 years to reach the end of the main belt and 7.6 years to reach the outer edge of the entire Kuiper belt.

To be fair, the writer didn’t say which Tuesday.

He could have meant 395 Tuesdays from now.

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