NASA worries that Pluto’s moons may pose a risk to spacecraft

Oct 17, 2012
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Back when many of us were studying space and science in school, Pluto was a planet. I still think of it as a planet even though it's been downgraded in recent years. Pluto may no longer be considered a planet, but NASA launched the spacecraft to study Pluto more closely back in 2006 called New Horizons.

Despite having been on its mission for six years now, New Horizons is still 1000 days at about 730,000,000 miles away from its closest approach to Pluto. NASA now has some concerns about the safety of its spacecraft once it reaches Pluto. There is some indication that Pluto could have a ring system.

A fifth moon was discovered orbiting Pluto in July, and there could be even smaller moons that are undetectable from Earth orbiting the planet. Scientists believe that Pluto, and its natural satellites have likely been involved in collisions with other objects in the Kuiper Belt where the planet resides. These collisions are believed to be what could have produced a suspected ring system.

NASA scientists have said that they fear Pluto, and its system of moons may be a "black widow." The scientists say that a collision with something as small as a single pebble or a millimeter sized grain could cripple or destroyed New Horizons. With Pluto so far from the Earth, studying the planet is difficult. That leaves scientists facing many unknowns that could significantly affect the New Horizons mission.

NASA is currently scanning Pluto with ground and space telescopes and working on computer simulations to help track where orbiting debris might be. The goal is to select the ideal location for New Horizons to prevent the spacecraft from being destroyed by unknown debris before it's able to conduct its mission.

[via Space.com]


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