Study of Pluto Moons May be Dangerous For New Horizons Spacecraft

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto in July 2015, it may find the region more hazardous than anticipated. The discovery of several moons around Pluto and the potential for more increase the risks during the probe’s flyby. The main problem is debris. The small moons are under constant bombardment from nearby space rocks called Kuiper Belt objects, but the moons‘ low gravity prevents them from holding on to chunks of dirt and rock that fly into the air when hit. The debris instead finds itself caught in orbit around Pluto, where it could pose a serious threat to New Horizons. Though cameras on the New Horizons probe will begin observing the Pluto system several months before its closest approach, they won’t be able to detect

the fast-flying milligram-size particles that could spell instant death if they collide with the vehicle. With three of Pluto‘s four moons having been discovered in the last five years, scientists have a hunch there are likely more still hidden. Due to these new additions, a group of experts recently convened to analyze the hazards New Horizons might face. After determining the threat was real, they discussed how to avoid it. According to scientists a harder look at the challenge could make a significant difference. Continuing to study the system with the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as several ground-based telescopes, could help reveal other hidden moons and their orbits well before New Horizons arrives. They also said that If there are moons too small, meaning too faint, then they won’t find them.

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