Home / Press Release / New Horizons isn’t only studying Pluto, fills gap in space environment observation

New Horizons isn’t only studying Pluto, fills gap in space environment observation

NASA scientists have been receiving some incredible information about Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft, but the Dwarf planet isn’t the only thing it’s studying. According to the recent press release by NASA, scientists recently noted that the spacecraft’s vantage point is ideal for studying Solar Wind, and it’s already studying it.

NASA’s New Horizons is one of the farthest objects sent by humans in our solar system. When the spacecraft passed through Uranus, it turned on an instrument that would allow it to observe solar particles, and provided nearly three years worth of continuous information.

Heather Elliott, a space scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and lead author on the study, said in a statement:

“The instrument was only scheduled to power on for annual checkouts after the Jupiter flyby in 2007. We came up with a plan to keep the particle instruments on during the cruise phase while the rest of the spacecraft was hibernating and started observing in 2012.”

A new study published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement provides some greater detail on what they found apart from the Pluto study. However, NASA announced some of their findings back in December 2015.

With the help of probe, astronauts have studied some of the structures formed by solar wind and how they change as they move away from the sun:

The New Horizons data show that the space environment in the outer solar system has less detailed structure than space closer to Earth, since smaller structures tend to be worn down or clump together as they travel outwards, creating fewer – but bigger – features.
Scientists also believe that they might have spotted early precursors to what form anomalous cosmic rays, observed by the Voyager 2 space probe, and which might help form the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. Anomalous cosmic rays are observed near Earth and can contribute to radiation hazard for astronauts, so scientists want to better understand what causes them.

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