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Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jun 3, 2006 11:54:42 GMT -6
Pioneer probes are off course!
Nasa scientists are investigating a mysterious force that is luring their spacecraft off course. Two unmanned probes sent deep into the solar system more than 30 years ago are hundreds of thousands of miles from where they should be.
Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973 to investigate the outer planets. Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lost contact with Pioneer 10 in 2003 when it was 250,000 miles off course. Its sister ship is also heading in the wrong direction and scientists believe that two other probes - Galileo and Ulysses - were affected by a similar anomaly.
Now Nasa researcher Slava Turyshev is analaysing years of data from the Pioneer probes in a bid to find out why, New Scientist reports. Some physicicists believe the space probes may have shown that we do not properly understand how gravity affects the movement of objects in space.
Turyshev wants to discover whether there was an onboard problem, such a minuscule leak of gas propellant, or if an undiscovered cosmic force is at work. His team will spend a year poring over nearly 95,000 bits of data sent back to Earth from Pioneer 10, including every firing of the thrusters and every malfunction.
They will analyse 29 years of information from the probe during which it travelled an incredible 7.5 billion miles on a course heading out of the solar system. Pioneer 10 is roughly headed for the bright red star Aldebaran in Taurus but will take more than two billion years to reach it.
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