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New Horizons Wakes Up

13 Sep 2017, 16:00 UTC
New Horizons Wakes Up
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New Horizons, Pluto, and Charon (artist’s concept). Courtesy NASA.
Our favorite outer solar system spacecraft is back on the job! New Horizons woke up from a five-month hibernation on its way to the distant world 2014 MU69. It’s still more than a year before the spacecraft gets to its next target, but it has a lot of work to do in the meantime. The current plan is to have it look at objects in the Kuiper Belt, measure the radiation environment it’s passing through, and check out the distribution and density of dust and gas. These are all “first-time” measurements of a regime of the solar system planetary scientists are eager to study.
New Horizons isn’t the first to transit the Kuiper Belt. The Voyagers and Pioneers passed through the same region and returned some data as their instruments would allow. Today, the Voyagers continue to measure the outermost region of the solar system and have crossed the heliospheric boundary to interstellar space. The Pioneers haven’t communicated back to Earth since 1995 and 2003, respectively. New Horizons is on a similar headlong trajectory out of the solar system and will return data for at least a couple of decades if ...

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