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Jul 02 2015

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Steady as she goes

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Stays the Course to Pluto. After a thorough analysis of Pluto’s vicinity, the New Horizons team has determined that there are no new features in the system — i.e. no undiscovered moons or rings.

The images used in the latest searches that cleared the mission to stay on its current course were taken June 22, 23 and 26. Pluto and all five of its known moons are visible in the images, but scientists saw no rings, new moons, or hazards of any kind. The hazards team determined that satellites as faint as about 15 times dimmer than Pluto’s faintest known moon, Styx, would have been seen if they existed beyond the orbit of Pluto’s largest and closest moon, Charon.

If any rings do exist, the hazard team determined they must be extremely faint, reflecting less than one 5-millionth of the incoming sunlight.

Not only does this mean that New Horizons will be safe on its current course as it flies through Pluto’s system, it means more fuel available to change course after New Horizons has left Pluto so that it can visit another Kuiper Belt object sometime in the next few years.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/07/02/steady-as-she-goes/

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