Feeds

Pluto probe closing in on Jupiter

Taking pictures while shifting into top gear

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The New Horizons space probe, hurtling through our solar system towards Pluto, is about to slingshot around Jupiter.

As it passes by our largest planet, NASA mission managers are planning to test all its systems with a series of detailed observations of Jupiter's ring and moon system and scans of its turbulent atmosphere.

New Horizons spots Jupiter's spots

The probe, which NASA expects to reach the Pluto system by 2015, is already the fastest spacecraft in history, and has (almost) reached the giant planet in less time than any craft ever launched. At the end of February, it will use its close pass of Jupiter to gain an additional 9,000mph taking its velocity past 52,000mph.

"Our highest priority is to get the spacecraft safely through the gravity assist and on its way to Pluto," says New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. "We also have an incredible opportunity to conduct a real-world encounter stress test to wring out our procedures and techniques, and to collect some valuable science data."

NASA says the probe will collect more than 700 images of Jupiter, its four largest moons, and its ring system. It will also take the first close-up images of the "Little Spot", a brewing storm close to the famous giant red spot.

The space craft will also be the first ever to travel down the long tail of Jupiter's magnetopause - the side of its magnetic field that streams away from the sun, shaped by the solar wind.

A rather indistinct view of Pluto

The on-board computer systems will not stream the data back to Earth in real-time, rather they will store the data and transmit it all in one go, once the gravity assist manoeuvres have been accomplished. By eary March, New Horizons will turn its antenna back to Earth and transmit its precious data back to mission control before continuing its long journey to the ex-planet Pluto.

Once it reaches Pluto, New Horizons will have five months to study the little world and its system of moons. After that, it will continue hurtling through the Kuiper Belt, where it may carry out additional observations of other worldlets. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.