Pluto’s moons could pose risk to the exciting mission of New Horizons spacecraft

Artist's rendition of the New Horizons Spacecraft approaching Pluto (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Scientists have found some new moons around Pluto that are considered as the risky things for the spacecraft New Horizons launched by NASA in 2006. After considering these, scientists have started thinking on to protect the spacecraft from every possible risk on its path toward Pluto.

“We want people to understand just how interesting and how nail-biting New Horizons’ mission might be,” Alan Stern, study lead author and principal investigator of the New Horizons mission at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said. “This is part of the excitement of first-time exploration, of going to a new frontier.”

Despite 6 years have been passed and the New Horizons is moving away from Sun at hilarious speed of 33,500 mph (54,000 kph), it is still 1000 days and 730 million miles (1,180 million kilometers) from Pluto. According to new indications, Pluto could have a ring system that is thought to be malignant to the spacecraft. Scientists discovered a fifth moon (P5) in July and there could be more of the smaller moons orbiting around the planet, which are undetectable from ground and space telescopes on Earth, posing risk to the exciting mission.

Pluto system representing New Horizons (Credit: New Horizons/NASA's Pluto Kuiper Belt Mission)

Pluto and its system of natural satellites could work as “black widow”.

“We’re worried that Pluto and its system of moons, the object of our scientific affection, may actually be a bit of a black widow,” Stern said. “We’ve come to appreciate that those moons, as well as those not yet discovered, act as debris generators populating the Pluto system with shards from collisions between those moons and small Kuiper Belt objects.”

According to them, spacecraft is very sensitive and something as small as a pebble or a millimeter sized grain could destroy it.

“A collision with a single pebble, or even a millimeter-sized grain, could cripple or destroy New Horizons,” said New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “We need to steer clear of any debris zones around Pluto.”

The scientists presented the details of the research on Tuesday, October 16th, at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Reno, Nevada.

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