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Voyager at Pluto? Alternative Histories

1 Mar 2018, 18:38 UTC
Voyager at Pluto? Alternative Histories
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With New Horizons in hibernation as it pushes on toward MU69, it’s worth remembering how recently our knowledge of the Kuiper Belt has developed. Gerard Kuiper did not predict the belt’s existence, though he did believe that small planets or comets should have formed in the region beyond the orbit of Neptune (he also thought they would have been cleared by gravitational interactions long ago). And I always like to mention Kenneth Edgeworth’s work in a 1943 issue of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, discussing the likelihood of small objects in the region. We could easily be calling the area the Edgeworth/Kuiper Belt, as I occasionally do in these pages.
Which takes me back to the Voyager days. It wasn’t until 1992 that astronomers discovered 15760 Albion, the first trans-Neptunian object detected after Pluto and Charon. Back in 1980, when controllers were deciding on adjustments to the trajectory of Voyager 1, Pluto was an option, as New Horizons PI Alan Stern has pointed out. The spacecraft could have reached Pluto in the spring of 1986, not long after Voyager 2’s flyby of Uranus in January of that year. That spectacular double-header was ruled out when the Voyager team ...

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