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NASA's New Horizons spacecraft probe begins flyby over Pluto

US space agency NASA's New Horizons spacecraft officially began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto on Thursday. The spacecraft will approach to the dwarf planet with the first close-up flyby scheduled for July 14.


NASA's New Horizons spacecraft probe begins flyby over Pluto

Zee Media Bureau

Washington: US space agency NASA's New Horizons spacecraft officially began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto on Thursday. The spacecraft will approach to the dwarf planet with the first close-up flyby scheduled for July 14.

New Horizons spacecraft was lifted off in January 2006. The piano-sized awoke from its final hibernation period in early December for the encounter after a voyage of nine years covering more than 4.8 billion km (3 billion miles) and on Thursday, several science instruments on board, including a space-dust detector, were activated, as reported by Xinhua.

"We`ve completed the longest journey any craft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring!" Alan Stern, New Horizons` principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement.

The photo shoot of the Pluto system will begin on Jan 25 by using the probe`s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, according to the space agency.

NASA said that the pictures will play a crucial role in navigating the probe as it covers the remaining 220 million km (135 million miles) to the dwarf planet. It will also help mission scientists understand the dynamics of Pluto`s moons.

"We need to refine our knowledge of where Pluto will be when New Horizons flies past it," said Mark Holdridge, the New Horizons` encounter mission manager from Johns Hopkins University.

"The flyby timing also has to be exact, because the computer commands that will orient the spacecraft and point the science instruments are based on precisely knowing the time we pass Pluto which these images will help us determine."

The probe`s instruments will also measure the high-energy particles streaming from the sun and dust-particle concentrations in the inner reaches of the Kuiper Belt, the unexplored outer region of the solar system that includes Pluto and potentially thousands of similar icy, rocky small planets.

Pluto`s closest approach is scheduled for July 14, when New Horizons will pass within 10,000 km (6,200 miles) of the dwarf planet`s surface, travelling at a speed of 43,000 km (27,000 miles) per hour.

The probe will then head further into the Kuiper Belt to examine one or two of the ancient, icy small worlds in that vast region, which is at least 1.6 billion km (one billion miles) beyond Pluto.

(With IANS inputs)

From Zee News

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