The New Horizons mission currently flying through the Kuiper Belt could be facing an unexpected change of plans. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is soliciting input on turning the spacecraft into a heliospheric science probe. The agency wants to do it much sooner than mission planners intended. If that happens, it will stop further planned planetary exploration of objects in that distant regime of the Solar System.Continue reading “NASA Plans Threaten the Future of New Horizons”
The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought
Over seven years ago, the New Horizons mission made history when it became the first spacecraft to conduct a flyby of Pluto. In the leadup to this encounter, the spacecraft provided updated data and images of many objects in the inner and outer Solar System. Once beyond the orbit of Pluto and its moons, it embarked on a new mission: to make the first encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). This historic flyby occurred about four years ago (Dec. 31st, 2015) when New Horizons zipped past Arrokoth (aka. 2014 MU69).
Now that it is passing through the Kuiper Belt, away from the light pollution of the inner Solar System, it has another lucrative mission: measuring the brightness of the Universe. These measurements will allow astronomers to make more accurate estimates of how many galaxies there are, which is still the subject of debate. According to new measurements by New Horizons, the light coming from stars beyond the Milky Way is two to three times brighter than the light from known populations of galaxies – meaning that there are even more out there than we thought!Continue reading “The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought”
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New Horizons Could Still Have More Adventures Ahead
Remember New Horizons? That plucky little spacecraft that gave us our first up-close looks at Pluto and Arrokoth? Of course, we do! Well, it’s still out there, traveling deeper into the Kuiper Belt. Just because it finished its primary mission doesn’t mean we’re done with it yet.Continue reading “New Horizons Could Still Have More Adventures Ahead”
Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis
NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.
One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.Continue reading “Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis”
Pluto’s Surface was Shaped by Ice Volcanoes
For all of Earth’s geological diversity and its long history, the planet has never had ice volcanoes. But Pluto has. And that cryovolcanism has shaped some of the ice dwarf’s surface features.
The resulting structures are unique in the Solar System.Continue reading “Pluto’s Surface was Shaped by Ice Volcanoes”
Now We Know Why Pluto has These Strange Features on its Surface
After New Horizons made its close flyby of Pluto in July of 2015, scientists were astounded at the incredible closeup views of Pluto’s surface. One of the most intriguing and mysterious features was a bright plain inside the prominent heart-shaped feature on Pluto, called “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) named after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.
The region is composed of a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments that appear to be geologically young because no impact craters are part of the terrain.Continue reading “Now We Know Why Pluto has These Strange Features on its Surface”
Once New Horizons was out Beyond Pluto, it Could Finally Measure the Brightness of the Milky Way
The New Horizons spacecraft has been speeding away from Earth since it launched in 2006. Scientists using the Alice UV imaging spectrograph on board New Horizons, have been patiently but sporadically gathering data during those 15 years, but also waiting to get far enough away from the Sun to make a specific measurement: the brightness of the Lyman-alpha background of the Milky Way. Until now, this had never been measured accurately.Continue reading “Once New Horizons was out Beyond Pluto, it Could Finally Measure the Brightness of the Milky Way”
New Horizons is Now 50 Astronomical Units Away From the Sun
As the New Horizons spacecraft hurtles out towards interstellar space, it has now reached an historical milestone. On April 17, 2021, New Horizons passed 50 astronomical units, or 50 times Earth’s distance from the Sun. It is just the 5th spacecraft to reach that distance, joining the Voyagers 1 and 2 and the Pioneers 10 and 11.Continue reading “New Horizons is Now 50 Astronomical Units Away From the Sun”
Away From the Light Pollution of the Inner Solar System, New Horizons was Able to see how Dark the Universe Really is
Just how dark is the universe, anyway? It’s a pretty hard thing to measure when we’re sitting this close to the sun. But NASA’s New Horizons probe is so far away that the images it takes of the distant universe are able to deliver the most accurate measurement ever of the universe’s diffuse background light.Continue reading “Away From the Light Pollution of the Inner Solar System, New Horizons was Able to see how Dark the Universe Really is”
New Horizons Saw the Universe With Even Less Light Pollution than Hubble’s View
In July of 2015, NASA’s New Horizons probe made history when it became the first mission ever to conduct a close flyby of Pluto. This was followed by the spacecraft making the first-ever encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) – known as Arrokoth (aka. 2014 MU69) – on Dec.31st, 2018. In addition, its unique position in the outer Solar System has allowed astronomers to conduct rare and lucrative science operations.
This has included parallax measurements of Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, the two closest stars to the Solar System. In addition, a team of astronomers led by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) used archival data from the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) to conduct measurements of the Cosmic Optical Background (COB).Continue reading “New Horizons Saw the Universe With Even Less Light Pollution than Hubble’s View”