Pluto & the New Horizons beyond

In history, the first man-made object has flown past the smallest yet the controversial planet of our solar system. They call it an age of exploration coming to an end.

But, as an optimistic race we are bound to consider it as the beginning of a new age where we are unshackled to go beyond what we have known as our very own solar system. 

For many reasons, this is a historic moment. As one of the least known planets, this New Horizons’ flyby would bring a lot of insights about our solar system.

This would let us know about how the Earth was formed as the dwarf planet took the path of the Earth in its formation before it stopped.

Thus one of the earliest stages in the development cycle of our Earth would be known, and hence this is a milestone in space science. In words of Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons’ mission,

“We know that the Earth went through the stage of growth that Pluto stopped at”. 

Alan Stern

Moreover, way back in 1768 Pluto was in the same position where it is being currently met by New Horizons, because of the known fact that as the farthest member of the solar system, its orbit is the longest and it takes 248 years for Pluto to go around the sun once.

In other words, one year on Earth is 248 years in Pluto.  When Pluto was in this spatial position last time, human beings were far from thinking of an aeroplane.

When it completed one full circle, there we send a guest to understand its know-hows in order to learn our own origin.  Anyhow, New Horizons’ journey didn’t begin with the idea of only a Plutonian visit, but to travel beyond the boundary of the solar system towards the Kuiper belt .

It took its feet off from earth nine years ago on January 19, 2006, at a speed of 31000 miles per hour to reach the periphery in a reasonable time.

As of now what scientists can hope is that everything goes right with New Horizons. As it will take four and a half hours for the data to reach from the space craft because of the whopping 3 billion mile distance in between, New Horizons will be sending data for the next 16 months.

Image sent by New Horizons 16 hours before the closest contact with Pluto as released by NASA is said to have clearer details.

Thus till then everything sounds good with our guest to Pluto. What had been a tiny spot of light a few years back is now a familiar landscape that can be explored and understood, making the mission a huge success. 

What didn’t grant Pluto the status of a planet was the Resolution 5A passed by International Astronomical Union that defines the characteristics of a celestial body to be a planet.

Nevertheless, its status can be still considered debatable, even though it is widely considered as a dwarf planet.

We have always known nine planets in our history, let alone the disagreements. It had always been a sense of awe and inspiration, when you think of space, planets, stars and the solar system.

We have come a long way since, reaching the last one and going beyond. There are no more planets that we know in order to explore, which makes this event a valedictory one in a series of successful adventures. 

May it be the fate of New Horizons or the never ending vast space, what remains forever is uncertainty. Even though Dennis Overbye, NY Times’ Cosmic Affairs Correspondent argues no one alive today would see another planet at its closest point, the probability is not negligible.

We have waded through an ocean of uncertainty with a lot of hope and passion to reach this point. To our pleasure what lies ahead is a vaster uncertainty. Because only through uncertainty we look forward, reach and explore newer horizons.

Image Source: Business Insider

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