On July 4, 2015, a NASA spacecraft called New Horizons was 5 billion kilometers away from Earth. It was only 10 days away from Pluto, after flying for 9.5 years, when it suddenly dropped out of contact. But let’s back up a little.
As of 1989, mankind had successfully sent a craft to every known planet in the solar system except one—Pluto. You may have heard that astronomers don’t consider Pluto or its brethren to be planets. However, most planetary scientists still do, which is why we’re using that terminology here. There’s a limited amount we can learn about Pluto from Earth because it’s so far from us.
Pluto, however, is a scientific goldmine. It’s located in a region called the Kuiper Belt, home to many small planets, hundreds of thousands of ancient icy objects, and trillions of comets. This mysterious region holds clues to the formation of our solar system, and it was long, tantalizingly beyond our reach.
Until New Horizons. Its objectives were to explore Pluto, collect as much scientific data as possible, transmit it back to Earth, then explore farther out in the Kuiper Belt. To achieve this, the New Horizons team outfitted their craft with even state-of-the-art scientific instruments. Those included Ralph, a set of cameras powerful enough to capture features the size of city blocks in Manhattan from tens of thousands of kilometers away. And REX, designed to use radio waves to measure Pluto’s atmospheric pressure and temperature. All of the onboard equipment had to be built to be both reliable and lightweight because New Horizons had an additional challenge; it had to reach its target as fast as possible. Why?
Around 2020, Pluto will reach a point in its orbit where its atmosphere could freeze. And due to the tilt of its axis, more and more of Pluto’s surface is shrouded in darkness every year. Pluto completes a full orbit once every 248 Earth years, so it would be a long wait for the next prime opportunity to visit. To see how New Horizons got to Pluto in time, let’s jump to its launch.
The launch of New Horizon
Its three rocket stages accelerated New Horizons to such great speeds that it crossed the 400,000 kilometers to the moon in just nine hours. About a year later, the craft reached Jupiter and got what’s called a gravity assist. That’s where it flies close enough to the gas giant to receive a gravitational slingshot effect. New Horizons was then flying at around 50,000 kilometers per hour, as it would for the next eight years to cross the remaining gulf to Pluto. Going at such an astonishing speed meant that slowing down to get into orbit or land would’ve been impossible. That’s why New Horizons was on a flyby mission, where it would get just one chance to scream by Pluto and make its observations. The flyby would have to be fully automated since, at that distance, any signals to guide it from Earth would take 4.5 hours to reach it. So the team loaded the ship’s computer with a series of thousands of commands, called the core load, that would begin to execute when the craft was 6.5 days from Pluto.
But when New Horizons was just ten days out, disaster almost struck. Ground control lost contact with the spacecraft. After two nerve-wracking hours, New Horizons came back online, but mission control discovered that its main computer had rebooted, losing the entire core load and other critical data. Without that, it would soon whizz by Pluto with virtually nothing to show for the mission. Alice Bowman, the mission’s Operations Manager, led a team for 72 sleepless hours to get the instructions loaded back into New Horizons in time. Without room for a single error, she and her team pulled it off, and New Horizons began taking and broadcasting breathtaking images.
Those observations have revealed a delightfully varied world, with ground fogs, high altitude hazes, possible clouds, canyons, towering mountains, faults, craters, polar caps, glaciers, apparent dune fields, suspected ice volcanoes, evidence for past flowing liquids, and more. One of the most exciting discoveries is the 1000-kilometer-wide Sputnik Planitia glacier.
Sputnik Planitia Glaciers
Sputnik Planitia is mainly composed of slowly churning frozen nitrogen, and we’ve never seen anything like it in our solar system. It is around 1050 by 800 kilometers of patch full of ice. It is assumed that it was created by an impact basin which helped in collet all the ice and makes those glacials.
The exploration of Pluto was a great success, but New Horizons isn’t done yet. On January 1, 2019, it’ll break its own record for the furthest explored object when it visits a Kuiper Belt Object called 2014 MU69, which is orbiting the sun another billion kilometers farther away than Pluto. The world is holding its breath to see what it’ll find there.
Hope you liked the journey to Pluto. Do share your views on what you think about Pluto. Also, subscribe to our newsletter and the notification.
What Astronauts did to Survive First Moon Landing
Beginning of Apollo Space Program
In the shadow of the atomic bomb, science and politics became entwined. And as World War II progressed, countries began to capitalize on the power of technology. This shift in wartime strategy gave way to rapid advancements in weaponry like the development of the world’s first long-range, self-guided ballistic missile.
And unlike those before it, this rocket had the potential to go to space and its creation would ultimately lead to a man on the moon. In the final years of the war, Nazi scientists successfully tested the V-2 rocket, the world’s most sophisticated missile and the first man-made object to cross the Karman line which is commonly represented as the start of space.
When the war ended in 1945, the new world powers were dead set on acquiring the Nazi’s V-2 technology. This man, Wernher von Braun, was known as the brains behind the rocket.
He, along with other Nazi scientists, surrendered to the Americans and were transported to the US under a top secret project known as “Operation Paperclip”. The Germans were put to work, helping American scientists design and build military missiles that would ultimately be used in the beginnings of the space program.
Meanwhile, Soviet scientists were repurposing the remains of Nazi rockets, and they were working much faster than the Americans. By the mid-1950s, the USSR developed an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a multi-stage design and multi-engine propulsion system making it capable of reaching orbit.
On October 4th, 1957, the Soviet Union used its new missile to launch the first artificial satellite into space. The satellite known as Sputnik sent a wave of paranoia over the United States. Its Cold War enemy now had a vantage point from space, increasing the fear of a nuclear attack.
The Space Race had officially begun. The US quickly tried to match the Soviet’s success by launching the Vanguard satellite. But the rocket only made it about a meter off the ground before its embarrassing explosion, earning the nickname, “flopnik”. Now in full Sputnik crisis mode, the government shifted its priority to the space race. President Dwight D. Eisenhower accelerated the 1958 launch of Explorer 1 – the first US satellite to reach space and established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Within eleven days, NASA launched its first spacecraft and within six months it announced the United States’ first man-in-space program.
Project Mercury had three objectives:
1. orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth
2. Investigate man’s ability to function in space
3. recover both man and spacecraft safely.
In the late 1950s, these were seemingly improbable tasks considering this was all happening around the same time the first computer hard disk was used, the electric printer was invented. Needless to say, technology had a long way to go. On top of that, NASA’s first astronauts had never actually been to space. They did, however, meet all the other necessary qualifications for a job that hadn’t been done before. The candidates were all military pilots, were highly educated and physically fit and they were the right height and weight to squeeze into the one-man Mercury spacecraft. The seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury were painted as American heroes. And for a country inundated with a fear of nuclear attack, they provided much-needed hope and distraction. After a series of errors, tests and a brave chimp named HAM, in May 1961 astronaut Alan Shepard became the second human in space. The US came up short… again. Less than one month earlier, Russian Astronaut, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to complete an orbital mission. But the trajectory of the Space Race was about to change.
NASA President said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Under pressure to catch up to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy set an ambitious deadline. And from that moment forward, NASA’s human spaceflight efforts were guided by a single goal. NASA’s second man in space program acted as a bridge to the moon.
Project Gemini had four main objectives:
1. test an astronaut’s ability to fly long-duration missions
2. understand how spacecraft could rendezvous and dock in orbit
3. perfect re-entry and landing methods
4. further understand the effects of long space flight on astronauts.
All the while, Project Mercury was achieving major milestones. And on February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. By 1965, the first crewed Gemini mission took flight. The missions to follow set a series of firsts not just for the United States but for the world.
A new race was on for the United States. But now it was a race against time. In under five years, NASA needed to land a man on the moon. The Apollo Program would become one of the country’s biggest challenges, costing billions of dollars and risking dozens of lives. But if the decades of war and innovation leading up to this moment proved anything, it was that some of the biggest breakthroughs unfold when pressure is at its highest. And, just like challenges before it, Apollo would redefine the boundaries of possibility, taking humanity on a ride to an entirely new world.
This was how the Apollo program started. Stay tuned to know about the Apollo 11. Turn on the notification to get reminded.
Todays News: WhatsApp on Fake News, $100 Billion sales of Microsost
Wait for today’s big headlines is over. Without any delay… Let’s start.
New Rs. 100 note to be issued
The Reserve Bank of India has announced that they will be soon circulating the new Rs. 100 denomination notes which will be of lavender color. This new notes which will have the motif of Gujarat’s archeological site named ‘Rani ni vav’ on the reverse which will be showing the culture of India. The dimensions for this note will be 66 mm by 142 mm.
Search YouTube videos by hashtags
Google-owned one of the most used video sharing site will now have a feature which will allow users to search using hashtags. This hashtags will be in the description titles and on clicking them, videos related to the hashtags will be shown. This feature is only available in Android and on the web.
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NTPC to take Rs. 1,500 crore loan
NTPC which is one of the largest producers to power in India has signed to take an Rs. 1500 crore loan from HDFC bank for the term of 15 years. It is said that this loan will be used in financing the capital expenditure of the NTPC.
WhatsApp gave the second notice
After a lot of lynching through the rumors and fake news transmitted through WhatsApp, the government has drafted a second notice to WhatsApp asking to provide better solutions to stop the propagation of fake news. As they can even face legal actions in case of mute spectators.
WhatsApp to limit message forwarding
After the government providing second notice on to find a solution for stopping propagation of fake news, WhatsApp is planning to limit the message forwarding to 5 users at a time which can become a good solution. And they are also planning to remove the forward shortcut button which is available against all the media messages.
Rs. 1484 crore spent on Modi’s foreign visits
We all know Modi is traveling many counties from the year 2014, and till now he has traveled to 84 countries and these trips have coated Rs. 1484 crore which includes spending on charter flights, maintenance of the aircraft and hotline service. This figure does not include the hotline service charged of the year 2017-18 and also do not include the charted flight costs of the year 2018-19. Amongst the cost given above, Rs. 1088 crore was spent on the aircraft maintenance only.
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WhatsApp to design course for Indians
After the increase in the incidents related to the fake news propagation through WhatsApp, WhatsApp with the help of a few partners is planning to design a course for Indians which help the users to spot the fake news. And to face this issue, earlier Whatsapp has also given a full page guideline in the newspaper regarding the ways of spotting the fake news.
Microsoft crosses $100 billion sales
It has been a magnificent year for Microsoft as they are able to surpass the milestone of $100 billion sales for the first time in their history of 43 years. Major sales of the Microsoft co sisted of the cloud services which recorded a revenue of $23 billion over the year.
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NASA observes planet being consumed
For the first time in history, NASA is being able to see the parent star consuming it’s planet’s debris from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory of NASA. This parent star is around 450 light years far from earth and has started consuming the debris which is filled by a planet collision.
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