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#Science

New Horizons spacecraft all set to examine Pluto after 9-year long journey

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Pluto has been shrouded in mysteries since its discovery back in 1930 and the best photo we have ever had of the dwarf-planet was back in 2006 when Hubble Space Telescope took one. That’s about to change as New Horizons spacecraft nears Pluto after a 9 year trip.

Being in hibernation for long, New Horizons probe woke up on December 6 and beamed signals back to Earth as it prepared to explore Pluto. Back in 1930 when it was discovered, Pluto was given the title of the ninth planet of our solar system, but in 2006, it was reclassified as “dwarf planet” within the Kuiper Belt.

Kuiper Belt is a swarm of icy objects beyond the realm of true planets and is one of the last unexplored regions of our Solar System. Oort Cloud is another such region that has yet to be explored and both these belts are believed to be source of comets.

According to NASA, New Horizons will commence its Pluto observations on January 15 with its closest approach slated for July 14. It is expected that the probe will start sending images of Pluto and its moons by mid-May and the anticipation is huge as they are expected to be better than those obtained by Hubble Space Telescope in 2006.

Project scientist Dr Hal Weaver, from the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US, said “For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them.”

Dr. Weaver added that the probe is set for a journey that will reveal “a new class of planets we’ve never seen” and “in a place we’ve never been before”.