On January 19, 2006, the New Horizons probe left earth on it’s long journey to Pluto. In less than two weeks, it will make it’s closest pass to Pluto. Let’s take a minute to ponder some of the incredible math/physics associated with this journey:
- It took just over one year to reach Jupiter for a slingshot boost to Pluto, but even with the increased speed, it has taken another 8 years to get to Pluto.
- It’s the fastest spacecraft ever launched: 36,373 mph.
- Pluto is 10.5 times farther from the sun than Earth is
- From 2007-2014, the probe woke up only once per week to send a message saying that everything was ok and then it also woke up 50 days per year to do some science and course monitoring.
- When it passes by Pluto, it will have traveled 2.96 billion miles.
- After traveling all those years and all those miles, it has to hit an area of space that is only 186 miles in diameter to achieve it’s objective.
- There were three scheduled course corrections although the second was canceled because the first one was so accurate. There was another course correction after passing by Jupiter and one more at about the halfway point in 2010. In total, the spacecraft only burned about 20-30 minutes of fuel to make course corrections!
- After passing by Pluto, the probe will continue on to examine objects in the Kuiper Belt. The mission could last another 10 years.