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The New Horizons space mission Gulf newspaper

Of all the spacecraft that attempted to leave our solar system, only two succeeded in doing so. In 2012 and 2019, respectively, the NASA Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft managed to cross the limit. The heliosphere, at which the sphere of influence of the Sun ends, and the interstellar medium begins.

Both spacecraft have brought us valuable treasures from this remote location, in what is humanity’s first adventure into this vast region beyond our solar system, but another vehicle has set off in their wake, a more advanced one, with improved instruments, newer optics, and newer means. To collect samples from the interstellar medium itself, which is the “New Horizons” vehicle, that vehicle launched from Earth in 2006 on a mission to visit Pluto, and reached it in 2015, revealing amazing details during the brief period in which it flew near it.

Since then, the spacecraft has continued its journey toward the interstellar boundary, and has now begun its second, longer mission, and is set to soon awaken from its deep slumber, opening up many new opportunities for scientific exploration in the outer region of the solar system, says Alice Bowman, operations manager. The “New Horizons” mission at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA: “Getting to where our spacecraft is currently is takes a long time, and the presence of a spacecraft in that part of the solar system will greatly benefit the scientific community, as there are so many unique purposes that a vehicle can do on this.” It is far from being achieved, and we certainly want to take advantage of that.”

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For the New Horizons spacecraft, these “unique purposes” include conducting unprecedented studies on the planets Uranus and Neptune, collecting samples of dust in the region, studying the cosmic background light, and much more, according to Alan Stern, mission officer at the Southwest Institute. For research in the state of Texas, these missions together will represent a new phase of the spacecraft mission, a phase that is “truly unique and combines many disciplines.” Last October witnessed the official start of this long second phase, which will last two years, but its pace will accelerate in the current year 2023. When the spacecraft wakes up from its slumber, its scientific program actually begins. Stern added, commenting on these missions: “We had many good ideas for studies in the fields of astrophysics, solar physics, and planetary sciences, and we chose the best of them.”

(Scientific American)