The New Horizons Pluto mission is a big deal. Here are Some reasons why


SOURCE : vox.com 

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to show us an alien world for the first time. At precisely 7:49 am ET on Tuesday, the probe will become the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto.

New Horizons has been en route for nine years, traveling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby will be over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically takes hundreds of photos and collects data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.

More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

1) We’ve never seen Pluto before

Pluto feels familiar. It’s easy to imagine the small, frigid rock, millions of miles from the sun and covered in ice.

But what you’re picturing in your head when you think about Pluto is probably an artist’s illustration. Until very recently, we didn’t even know exactly what color it was — and the best photos we had of Pluto looked like this:

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New Horizons is going to change that in a very big way. Already, as it’s closed in on Pluto, it’s given us way better photos than ever before:

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Pluto (right) and its moon Charon, as seen by New Horizons on July 11. (NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)

The high-resolution photos to come will give us detailed topographical maps, just like those provided by the satellites that orbit Earth. They could reveal mountains, ice caps, volcanoes, or even an ocean of liquid water under the ice. “Who knows what kind of bizarre things we’ll find up close?” Stern said.

2) This mission will remind you how vast space really is

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Earth, as seen by the Voyager spacecraft, from more than 4 billion miles away.

We spend our entire lives on the surface of Earth — so it’s hard to really grasp how far away Pluto truly is from us.

But as an analogy, think of Earth as a basketball. By comparison, Pluto would be a little larger than a golf ball. But if you wanted to keep the scale constant, you’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 50 to 80 miles (depending on its location in orbit). This mission, like many activities in space, is a good reminder of how vast our corner of the universe is — and how absurdly tiny our entire earthly realm of experience is by comparison.

And it’s not just the size of space that boggles the mind. It’s also the timescale on which everything occurs. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to orbit the sun. To put it another way, the entirety of US history has occurred during a single Plutonian orbit.

3) We won’t get many more missions like this for a while

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There’s a mission to Europa planned, but it won’t reach the moon for a decade or more.

The past few decades have been filled with all sorts of fascinating missions to the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets of our solar system — uncrewed probes sent every few years, run by trained scientists, and supported by government funding.

But the sad truth is that this era is largely drawing to a close. As David W. Brown writes in an article on the dark future of American space exploration, “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”

This is the result of cutbacks to NASA’s planetary exploration budget. The OSIRIS-REx probe will launch next year, to travel to an asteroid and bring back a sample, but it won’t return until 2023. Meanwhile, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is in the works, but it likely won’t be launched until 2025 at the earliest, and wouldn’t reach Europa until the 2030s.

In other words: Enjoy this brief flyby. It’s going to be a while before any NASA probe visits a new world.

4)This is a staggering technological achievement

t’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to send a spacecraft to Pluto. But think of it this way: because it’s so incredibly far away, it took New Horizons nine years to cover the 3-billion-mile trip there — which means the craft is using decade-old technology, traveling a route that was calculated years ago.

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New Horizons’ trajectory through the solar system.

Despite this, NASA engineers managed to get the tiny probe — about the size and shape of a grand piano — to an incredibly precise spot in space, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot to accelerate it outward and a few thruster burns over the years to keep the probe on track.

Along the way, they had to worry about potentially damaging debris nearby Pluto — as well as a scary software glitch this past weekend, which was, thankfully, resolved. Now New Horizons is going to fly within 7,750 miles of Pluto, coming closer than its moons.

Because New Horizons is traveling at such a high speed (about 31,000 miles per hour) and can’t slow down, the flyby will be over in a matter of minutes — fording it to collect all its data in a tiny window of time.

And receiving all that data is another huge challenge. Because New Horizons is so far away, it takes about 4.5 hours for any data it sends back to reach Earth. And the signal is so faint that NASA has to use 200-foot-wide radio dishes (one each in Australia, California, and Spain) to pick it up. This means an extremely low rate of data transmission: about 1 kilobit per second, more than 50 times slower than a 56k modem from the ’90s. It takes more than 42 minutes for New Horizons to fully transmit an image that’s 1024 pixels wide.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, now’s the time to start. This is a really big deal.

Dwarf planet Ceres reveals pyramid-shaped mystery


Image of Pyramid taken by NASA’s Spacecraft DAWN. Do you think it is just a simple mountain or Something else.
OK, this is just too much.

First, NASA’s Dawn probe spotted curiously sparkly bright spots on the surface of Ceres, the dwarf planet that lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Beats us, the scientists said.

Now, cameras on the tractor-trailer-size spacecraft have captured a baffling structure rising 3 miles above the planet’s cratered surface.

Conveniently, the thing looks an awful lot like a pyramid.”Intriguing,” the NASA scientists said.

 Another Image of Ceres showing Strange mysterious lights. Image taken by NASA’s DAWN spacecraft.
To be fair, the agency offered no suggestion that the towering structure is an offering to some long-lost space emperor or home to our new alien overlords.
And, to be even more fair, it’s probably just a really tall mountain in a solar system filled with wondrous and strange natural phenomena.

But the Dawn mission has done nothing but stoke imaginations since the discovery of mysterious bright spots on the surface of the dwarf planet in February and the beginning of the probe’s orbit in March.

Folks have claimed to have spotted giant alien motherships hovering over the planet, bat-winged spaceships parked on its surface and even evidence of alien cities.

But the mystery only deepened with the most recent batch of images showing even more bright spots alongside the largest one, which NASA said looks to stretch some 6 miles.

Many, of course, insist that the spots look for all the world like brightly lit cities twinkling on the shadowed surface of the distant dwarf planet.

I knew it! There’s gambling going on on Ceres! #aliens pic.twitter.com/QP6PB6JFho

 
— Chris Reher (@Chris_Reher) June 13, 2015
Of course, NASA hasn’t traveled down that road. Scientists, they say, still don’t know what the spots are. Maybe ice. Maybe salt.
“But scientists are considering other options, too,” NASA said coyly.
But #itsaliens, right?
Source : FirstPost
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NASA’s Dawn Probe Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres as a Crescent


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After spending several weeks in the shadow of Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is finally getting a close-up glimpse of the dwarf planet.

For Those Who Don’t Know About CERES : Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is composed of rock and ice, is 950 kilometers (590 miles) in diameter, and comprises approximately one third of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System and the only object in the asteroid belt known to be unambiguously rounded by its own gravity.

Ceres’ cratered north pole blazes through the darkness in new images captured by Dawn on April 10. The photos are the highest-resolution views of the world that Dawn has gotten since entering Ceres’ orbit on March 6, NASA officials said.

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Dawn was about 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet when the pictures were taken, and mission team members promise even better views of Ceres in the months to come.

Full science observations begin April 23, when lighting conditions will be better for Dawn and the probe will be even closer to Ceres — just 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) above the surface. Dawn will begin moving even lower down on May 9.

In future weeks, NASA hopes the mission will help scientists better understand a key mystery of Ceres: strange bright spots on its surface that, in some cases, have different temperatures than the terrain surrounding them. Mission scientists still don’t know what the spots are made of.

The $466 million Dawn mission, which launched in September 2007, aims to better characterize the solar system’s early days by studying Ceres and Vesta, two intact protoplanets that are the largest denizens of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The probe spent 14 months at the 330-mile-wide (530-kilometer-wide) Vesta in 2011 and 2012, then headed to Ceres.

Mission scientists said they expect that Ceres, which is about 590 miles (950 km) wide, will be wetter than Vesta, and made of different stuff. Some researchers think Ceres may even harbor liquid water beneath its surface, perhaps making the dwarf planet capable of hosting life as we know it.

Source : NBS-news,Sci-news,Wikipedia

[Video] Space’s 10 Most Gigantic Disasters


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Here are the 10 Most Biggest Explosions and Impacts Ever Known in Space.

Enjoy the video…

Source : Hybrid Librarian (Video Uploader)

Signs of Alien Life Will Be Found by 2025, NASA’s Chief Scientist Predicts


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Here’s the full quote, as delivered by NASA Chief scientist Ellen Stofan at Tuesday’s panel discussion on the Agency’s search for habitable worlds and alien life:

“I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.

We know where to look. We know how to look,” Stofan added. “In most cases we have the technology, and we’re on a path to implementing it. And so I think we’re definitely on the road.”

Former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, echoed Stofan’s assessment. “I think we’re one generation away in our solar system, whether it’s on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star.”

Maybe it’s time to start placing bets. Personally, my money’s on Europa – but each of the following “ocean worlds” listed in this infographic from NASA a solid candidate:

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Source :io9

Ceres: NASA Finds Mysterious White Spot On Dwarf Planet


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Ceres- A Dwarf Planet located at Asteroid belt (Click Image to Download)

NASA scientists have been stymied by the discovery of a large, bright white spot on the dwarf planet Ceres, which has been revealed in images from the Dawn spacecraft, set to soon arrive at the unusual celestial object.

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The white spot appeared in a series of photographs of Ceres taken on January 13, according to Space.com. Though the images were released on January 19, just what has caused the anomaly on the dwarf planet, which is located between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt, remains undetermined, according to mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman.

“Yes, we can confirm that it is something on Ceres that reflects more sunlight, but what that is remains a mystery,” he said.

The Dawn spacecraft marks the first mission to Ceres, and is set to arrive at the dwarf planet in March of this year. The spacecraft has traveled 3.1 billion miles over the last seven years, according to Popular Science, pushed toward the asteroid belt at just 450 mph by a set of ion thrusters.

Scientists know precious little about Ceres, which has a diameter of 590 miles and a surface area four times larger than the state of Texas. Astronomers have previously observed water vapor plumes erupting off Ceres, thought to be the product of ice geysers referred to as “cryovolcanos.” Though much of its mass is believed to be composed of water, some speculate that the Dawn mission will determine that the dwarf planet possesses a rocky, barren surface.

Although it is unclear what Dawn will find when it reaches the dwarf planet, the spacecraft already has a mystery to solve in the form of Ceres’ unusual white spot.

Source: www.inquisitr.com

The Dawn Spacecraft Is Closing in on Dwarf Planet Ceres


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is currently en route to the asteroid belt where it will rendezvous with the region’s largest celestial body, Ceres. As a sneak preview, the spacecraft has snapped its best-yet image of the dwarf planet.

The image was snapped at a distance of 740,000 miles (1.2 million km) from Ceres. The dwarf planet features an average diameter of about 590 miles (950 km).

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At 9-pixels wide, the image isn’t much. It doesn’t hold a candle to the one previously snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope:

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But just wait until Dawn arrives at Ceres. In early 2015, the spacecraft will begin delivering images at much higher resolution.

Since launching in 2007, Dawn has visited Vesta, a giant protoplanet currently located 104 million miles (168 million kilometers) away from Ceres.

Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Source : io9.com