There are times when I wish I had the talent for mathematics. I could hardly make heads or tails of the subject while I was in grade school. It wasn’t until I took some refresher courses at the local community college that I finally grasped algebra, with flying colors. The main reason, a working knowledge of higher mathematics appeals to me is outer space. Ever since my childhood exposure to the Sputniks and Telstar, my imagination has wandered in fantasy about space exploration.
What is the nature of outer space and the planets of the Solar System? Countless people throughout the aeons have pondered this question. The past few decades have seen us answer some of these puzzles. There is something unspeakably important about space exploration. It’s an almost spiritual quest.
I’m not alone when I wish the U.S. government would spend far less on the military and far more for education and NASA. I don’t mind paying my taxes when they benefit positive, helpful programs. Thank goodness, there are space programs on a global scale.
One of the most important ones, that comes to mind today, is the “New Horizons” probe. The spacecraft is getting closer and closer to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The craft has an astonishing distance to travel within a time-frame measured in years.
The dwarf planet has an average orbital distance from the Sun of 39.5 AU (astronomical units). Compare that to Earth’s distance from the Sun of 1.0 AU. (An astronomical unit is defined as the mean distance from the Sun to Earth–149,500,000 kilometres or around 93,000,000 miles). Doing some rough arithmetic, I come up with 5,905,250,000 kilometres or 3,673,500,000 miles. The “official” figure is 5,913,520,000 kilometres.
The New Horizons probe was dispatched from Earth on this day in 2006. The precise launch happened at exactly 19:00:00 UTC (2:00:00 PM EST) from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard an Atlas V rocket. It has a ways to go yet. If everything goes on as planned, the probe will make its historic flyby on July 14th of next year. New Horizons still has to traverse approximately 4.4 AUs of interplanetary space to reach the Pluto system. It will eventually be the fifth probe to enter interplanetary space and the very first one to skim by Pluto and its moons.
It’s equipped with several sensors to measure various aspects of Pluto and the moons, Charon, Hydra, Kerberos, Nix, and Styx. Three light spectrometers alice, ralph, and pepssi are aboard.
Atmospheric data will be collected by REX. Geological and telescopic exploration will be done by lorri. The effects of the Solar winds and plasma are to be measured by swap. Students are taking part with their SDC (student dust counter) which measures space particles that collide with the space probe.
The New Horizons probe is the second fastest craft, so far, in history. Relative to the Sun, after its boost from Jupiter, New Horizons has accelerated to 84,000 km/hour (about 52,000 mph).
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that radio signals take about 4 hours to arrive at the New Horizons craft. That means a two-way message takes a total of about 8 hours to accomplish today.