NASA Pluto Probe New Horizons Safely on Course for Epic Flyby

The NASA space probe known as New Horizons is on a smooth, safe road to Pluto during the last few weeks of its long and much publicized journey. New Horizons’ onboard long-range camera has been working overtime to try to snap a pic of anything that may cause trouble for the probe.

NASA Pluto Probe New Horizons Safely on Course for Epic Flyby - Clapway

First hazard search images reveal no new threats to the spacecraft.

Things like undiscovered moons, rings, or other unexpected features could prove lethal to the small craft, since the collision speeds would be extremely high. Yet, after a primary scan, there are no new or unexpected features to threaten New Horizons or the health of this mission. The scan did pick up all five of Pluto’s known moons. Styx, Kerberos, Hydra, Nix, and Charon could all easily be seen, and the camera is apparently even good enough to detect a body just half as luminous as the dimmest of them, Styx. Thus, the team reasoned that any possible undiscovered moons or rings would have to be very small. A moon would likely be smaller than 3 miles in diameter, and a ring would have to be very narrow or faint, perhaps under a thousand miles wide.

In case a hazard is detected, the team has two options.

If a dangerous object is detected, the New Horizons team can do two possible things (or both). The first would be to divert the path of the probe to one of three alternate routes. This would only work until around the Fourth of July, after which it’s be too late to change the path. The second would be to point the high-gain antenna the probe uses forward, in hopes that it would act like a shield. Yet, the team will hopefully never have to test these scenarios.

NASA Pluto Probe New Horizons Safely on Course for Epic Flyby - Clapway

The Pluto mission is set to give us what is by far our closest look at the dwarf planet.

The New Horizons probe is part of a NASA mission that is tasked with giving researchers the first ever close-up shots of the “ex-planet.” Whatever awesome new things we can learn about the dwarf planet come at a cost of $700 million and years of work. The craft has been flying since the beginning of January 2006, and has covered an astonishing 3 billion miles. At the rate it’s currently traveling, it’s closing in on pluto at 750,000 miles per day.