Image taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera(MVIC) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.(Photo: NASA) Washington: Space
The Space around Pluto and its Moons (Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, Styx) is almost empty it containing only about six dust particles per cubic mile according to data collected by student-built instrument riding on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The spacecraft found only handful of dust grains, the building blocks of planets, when it whipped by Pluto at about 49,000 kilometers per hour just last year, scientists said. “The bottom line is that space is mostly empty.” said Fran Bagenal, a professor at University of Colorado Boulder, who leads the New Horizons Particles and Plasma Team.
“Any debris created when Pluto’s moons were captured or created during impacts has long since been removed by planetary processes,” said Bagenal, a faculty member at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and space physics (LASP). By studying these microscopic dust grains can be the clues about how our solar system was formed billions of years ago and how it actually works today, by providing enough information on planets, moons and comets, said Bagenal. Launched in 2006, the New Horizons mission was designed to help scientists in better way and providing more information to study and analyses and understand the frozen world at the edge of our solar system, which includes Pluto and the recently discovered Kuiper Belt. Its vast region thought to span more than a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit, the Kuiper Belt is believed to be at least 70,000 objects more than approx. 96 kilometers in diameter and contain samples of ancient material created during the birth of our solar system when it was a violent and unstable place about 4.5 billion years ago. The Student Dust Counter (SDC) logged thousands of dust grains strikes over the spacecraft’s nine years, in a journey of 3 billion-mile to Pluto while other six of instruments slept, said Professor Mihaly Horanyi form (LASP). “Now we’re starting to see slow but steady increase in the impact rate of larger particles, possibly indicating that we already have entered the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt,” said Horanyi.
This dust counter is a thin film resting on honeycombed aluminum structure the size of a cake pan mounted on the spacecraft’s exterior. A small electronic box functions as the instrument’s “brain” to access each individual dust particles that hit the detector, allowing the students to infer the mass of each particle.
“Our Instruction has been soaring through our solar system’s dust disk and gathering data since launch,” said Jamey Szalay, a formar CU- Boulder student and now a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).
“It’s going to be very exciting to get into the Kuiper Belt and see what we find there,” said Szalay.