New Horizons, the robotic probe, owned and operated by NASA will be waking up today. At 12pm Pacific time, the New Horizons probe will be woken up to begin its actual mission which began 9 years ago. The probe has been traveling across the solar system in a hibernation state – in an effort to collect information from one of the most curious objects in the Milky Way. The dwarf planet called Pluto is going to finally be getting its close-up as the New Horizons craft closes in on the planet and begins sampling the surroundings of the planet – and begins analyzing.
Even though the probe will be waking up today though does not necessarily mean that the mission begins today. January 15th is the target date for when instruments that are onboard the spacecraft will begin collecting information and making observations of the planet and the space around the dwarf planet.
However, the debate around Pluto is one that has the science community split. Some argue that the planet that was first discovered in 1930 – but is a part of a larger complex of small planetary bodies called the Kuiper belt – isn’t actually a planet at all. Given the fact that there are more than 1,100 bodies similar to Pluto in the region that is considered the Kuiper belt – the question is definitely a legitimate one.
This mission though should answer that question. The main question scientists have, and that divides the science community so greatly is whether Pluto actually has enough mass to be considered a planet. “The geophysical definition of a planet is that the object has enough mass that its gravity holds it in a perfect sphere. Pluto is almost a perfect sphere, and on this mission we will find out if it has enough mass that it deserve to be in the planet category,” noted one of the scientists on the team working on this with NASA.
Overall, the lack of knowledge is really what makes assumptions regarding Pluto so challenging. This mission will answer a lot of questions, as well as provide a solid photograph of the planet at a closer range. This will all give scientists enough information to fully-understand what is going on, on Pluto, and what the planet looks like – as some instruments will evaluate things like the landscape of Pluto, as well as the atmosphere and chemical makeup.
Until now, the last credible photos that were received from the Hubble telescope – back in 1994 – really only showed a small, pixelated photo that couldn’t lend much information to scientists, furthering the confusion and debate around the smallest planet in the solar system.