Aspacecraft headed for the Solar System's edge has aimed itself at the planetJupiter in a long-distance slingshot on toward Pluto.
NASA's NewHorizons probe fired its thrusters in two brief maneuvers - one on Jan. 30and an earlier event on Jan. 28 - for a total speed change of about 40 miles perhour (or about 18 meters per second). Launchedon Jan. 19, New Horizons carries seven primary instruments on a mission tostudy Pluto, its moons and the icy Kuiper Belt objects beyond the ninth planet.
Athird, final trajectory maneuver is set for Feb. 18, but New Horizons launchplaced it so close to its flight path that the probe has managed save much morehydrazine propellant for later use than expected, APL spokesperson Mike Buckleytold SPACE.com. The probe will swing past Jupiter on Feb. 28, 2007 anduse the planet's gravity as a boost toward Pluto, he added.
"We're on ourway to an exciting Jupiter encounter and a date with destiny at Pluto," saidNew Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern,of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Stern willcelebrate the centennial anniversary of the birth of astronomer ClydeTombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930, on Feb. 4 with a presentation atthe University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.
Tombaughdiscovered Pluto on Feb. 18, 1930 at Flagstaff, Arizona's Lowell Observatory.The University of Kansas' Clyde Tombaugh Observatory is named after theastronomer, who died in 1997. [Click here for moreinformation on the centennial Tombaugh discussion.]