Pluto satellites reveal secrets and threaten danger

Pluto satellites reveal secrets and threaten danger

With NASA’s New Horizons approaching Pluto and its five satellites, scientists expect not only to significantly expand their views on the Pluto system, but it is also possible to detect more satellites or rings.

These discoveries can help explain what created the tiny system - or they can destroy the “New Horizons” apparatus before it begins to transmit research data.

“The New Horizons mission provides an opportunity to figure out the structure of the satellites,” said Richard Binzel, a member of the mission’s scientific team and a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Build is the next step in deciphering their origin.”

After observations in telescopes, it became clear that the satellites vary substantially in brightness. This suggests that they consist of many substances and therefore have a different origin, and may have been captured by Pluto at different times. On the other hand, clear orbits around Pluto strongly suggest the opposite: that they were formed at the same time, possibly from an ancient collision that caused Pluto to rotate around Charon and the other satellites, as well as rings or debris.

At today's time, the most acceptable is considered the collision theory, which formed the Pluto-Charon system and other systems in common with the Earth-Moon system, which is believed to have formed in the same way when a body the size of Mars crashed into the Earth of an early period and created our extraordinarily large satellite. “Charon is half the size of Pluto,” said Mark Showalter, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute, who is participating in a program to search for dangerous debris along the flight path of the New Horizons apparatus at Johns Hopkins University, an applied physics laboratory. “So the consensus is Charon trash from this collision.”

Pluto satellites reveal secrets and threaten danger

"The question is in the little guys," said Showalter, implying the smallest satellites of Styx, Nikta, Hydra and Kerber. The collision theory sounds very good, he said, except that no one was able to reproduce the system exactly in the model. Thus, all bets are turned off until there is no more data that New Horizons can provide.

Regardless of the emergence of the Pluto system, the discovery of all four small satellites over the past 10 years makes it more likely that it could be additional small bodies occupying space near Pluto. And this adds an extra layer of pressure to the flight of “New Horizons” on July 15th.

“If you fly through the system at a speed of 14 km / s (31000 miles per hour), anything more than a microscopic particle can damage your spacecraft,” said Showalter. Of course, 3 billion miles away, there is no opportunity to see something small. Thus, researchers have focused on things that can be a source of dust and gravel in the immediate vicinity of Pluto.

“In terms of danger to the ship, we are not too concerned about any satellites outside Charon,” said Showalter. “The reason is that any dust they produce is most likely not to be encountered on the ship’s path. Most of all, we are concerned about something close to Pluto and, or in its immediate orbit. ” In order to minimize the danger, Showalter and a team of 10 people analyze and simulate every bit of fresh data as the “New Horizons” approaches Pluto. They are located at an observation point for detecting small satellites or fuzzy rings that may not have been seen before.

“Think of the crew as a“ black brood ”who sees danger in their wake,” said Showalter. If they see the threat, three alternative by-pass options called “SHBOTs” (Safe Haven By Other Trajectory) are developed - Safe Harbor in Other Ways. NASA will be able to select the “SHBOT” option next week if it finds a cause for alarm. “Also, we have the option to rotate the ship’s RAM antenna — this means that we can use it as a shield to protect the ship during flight through the system.”

Each of these options takes place at a significant cost, so scientists prefer to stick to the original plan - and they are very optimistic that everything will be fine with New Horizons.

“Over the past year, we have rehearsed this analysis process in nine tests of readiness testing,” said Showalter. “I think we are ready for almost everything we can find in the system.”

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