25 March 2015

New Horizons is Approaching Pluto. Here’s How Very, Very, Far Away Pluto Is

Posted by Dan Satterfield


NASA’s New Horizon Mission is just a few months from passing by Pluto and we will for the first time see what the surface of this large Kuiper Belt object looks like.

Most folks are surprised to know that we have no idea what the surface of Pluto looks like. Even using the Hubble Telescope, we only see a bright star like image, but that is about to change this summer when the New Horizon’s spacecraft flies by it. We are sure to see some strange features on both Pluto and its moons. Would you like to help name them? I’ll tell you how in a second, but first I want you to give you an idea of how very, very far away Pluto is. You will likely see some news stories in coming months showing how far away Pluto is in miles or kilometers, but giving the distance this way is really worthless, because the number is so large it is really impossible to make any comparison, but there is a better way to do it, a way to grasp the immense distances across space, and understand how very, very, far away Pluto is.

This is the best view humans have ever had of Pluto!

This is the best view humans have ever had of Pluto!

You know how long it takes to drive from say Chicago to San Francisco, and you know that the same trip will take you three hours on a passenger jet, so that gives you an idea of how fast and far you can go travelling at 550 knots (A little over 1000 km/hr).

So let’s assume that a modern passenger plane can fly straight up and ask ourselves how long it would take to cross the Solar System. The answers may surprise you. Consider this:

1.If a jet passenger plane could fly straight up into space, you would reach the International Space Station in about 30 minutes, but it will take you two days to reach the height of the GOES weather satellites!

2. The Moon will be a long flight of three weeks, and think about that for a second. You passed the ISS in 30 minutes but the Moon takes three weeks. The Apollo astronauts really had the right stuff, because there is no comparison between low Earth orbit and a trip to the Moon.

3. The Sun would take 19 years, but I’d advise going in that direction, because Venus is a greenhouse hell-hole and the Sun will fry your plane to ash..

4. If you head outward instead, it would take around 47 years to visit the Mars Rovers (assuming an average Earth-Mars distance), and if you want to reach Jupiter, you’ll need to eat right and exercise, because the trip will take 100 years on Boeing 777.

But how long to reach Pluto??

The trip will take a total of 760 years!

Oh and for the fun of it… the nearest star to our sun is a LONG trip by aircraft of 5,357,000 years… Homo Sapiens only evolved only about 200,000 years ago, so your descendants who reach the nearest star will not likely look much like you! Saying that space is BIG and EMPTY, just does not cover it, but perhaps now you have a bit better idea of just how vast it is….

I promised to show you how you could help put some names to the still hidden features of Pluto.If so, GO HERE!

*typo corrected on km/hr. Now correct.