by Bethany Montgomery
What Is New Horizons?
New Horizons is a NASA spacecraft that was the first to visit dwarf planet Pluto in July 2015. New Horizons is also in the process of exploring the Kuiper Belt. This spacecraft is made up of seven main components: Ralph is the visible and infrared imager, or spectrometer which provides color, composition, and thermal maps, Alice which is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer that analyzes the composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere. Alice also looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs). REX, which stands for Radio Science Experiment, measures atmospheric composition and temperature. It can also be known as a passive radiometer. LORRI, which stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, is a telescopic camera that obtains and encounters data at long distances, maps Pluto’s far side, and provides high resolution geologic data. SWAP stands for Solar Wind Around Pluto. SWAP is a solar wind and plasma spectrometer which measures atmospheric “escape rate” and observes Pluto’s interaction with solar wind. PEPSSI, Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation, is an energetic particle spectrometer that measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere. Finally, there is SDC, Student Dust Counter. This was built and operated by students which measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.
What Is The New Horizons Mission?
The New Horizons mission originally began on January 19, 2006. This mission’s operations center is located in Laurel, Maryland at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. At this time, Pluto was still considered as the ninth planet in our Solar System. It was also said to have three moons which NASA was curious about. During New Horizons mission, Pluto became classified as a dwarf planet and was discovered to have five moons. Jupiter was the first stop in this mission. Jupiter was used as a gravity boost for New Horizons. This was also when scientific studies on Jupiter occurred in February of 2007. In 2015, NASA conducted a flyby study of Pluto and its moons that was planned to last six months. This study occurred during Pluto’s closest approach on July 14, 2015. New Horizons is on an extended mission to head towards the Kuiper Belt. These missions are ranked as the highest priority by the National Academy of Sciences. New Horizons sends back data to Earth while on this mission. The exploration of the Kuiper Belt is scheduled to begin on January 1, 2019. The Kuiper Belt is considered as the one of the building blocks of our Solar System. These missions are intended to learn more about our Solar System that has not yet been explored. It is to provide information for what began the Solar System.