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Space Science

Beware the Rings of Pluto 96

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the why-not-send-two-or-three dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that scientists are planning a new route for NASA's New Horizons space probe as it approaches a potentially perilous path toward Pluto through a possible set of rings that may create dangerous debris zones for the NASA spacecraft. New Horizons is currently about 1,000 days away and 730 million miles from closest approach to Pluto but given that New Horizons is currently zooming away from the sun at more than 33,500 mph, 'a collision with a single pebble, or even a millimeter-sized grain, could cripple or destroy New Horizons,' says project scientist Hal Weaver. 'We need to steer clear of any debris zones around Pluto.' Researchers are making plans to avoid these hazards if New Horizons needs to. 'We are now exploring nine other options, "bail-out trajectories,"' says principal investigator Alan Stern. New Horizon's current plan would take it about halfway between Pluto and the orbit of its largest moon, Charon. Four of the bail-out trajectories would still take the spacecraft between Pluto and Charon's orbit. The other alternatives would take New Horizons much further away from Pluto, past the orbits of its known moons. 'If you fly twice as far away, your camera does half as well; if it's 10 times as far, it does one-tenth as well,' says Stern. 'Still, half a loaf is better than no loaf. Sending New Horizons on a suicide mission does no one any good. We're very much of the mind to accomplish as much as we can, and not losing it all recklessly. Better to turn an A+ to an A- than get an F by overreaching.'"
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Beware the Rings of Pluto

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