Pioneer Space Probes Unexpectedly Slow Down In Deep Space
Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 to explore Jupiter and Saturn; these remarkably successful and durable spacecraft fulfilled the expectations of their designers. The last bits of data from Pioneer 10 were received in early 2003 following over 30 years of continuous operation; the spacecraft was 12 billion kilometers from the sun.
(From Aerospace Analysis Helps Confirm)
However, once they passed beyond the orbit of Uranus, the radio signals sent back by the aging craft have been shifted to progressively shorter wavelengths. This implies that they are decelerating slightly; no one knows why this is happening.
Some space scientists are calling for a deep-space mission to try to understand this behavior - called the Pioneer anomaly. Mundane reasons for this effect have been brought forward; it could be due to leakage of gaseous fuel from the thrusters, for example. However, some scientists wonder if the Pioneer anomaly may be due to some previously unknown forces that are only noticed outside the solar system.
(From Pioneer 10 aerospace physics)
A number of possible causes have been ruled out by Philip Laing and Anthony Liu, working under a NASA Office of Space Science grant:
- Errors in JPL's orbital determination software
- Gravity of the Kuiper belt and gravity from the galaxy
- Errors in the planetary ephemeris
- Errors in the values of the Earth's orientation, precession, and nutation
- Nongravitational effects from solar pressure and attitude control maneuvers
- Solar wind and interplanetary medium
- Nominal thermal radiation and plutonium half-life
- Drifting clocks, general relativity, and the speed of gravity
- Hardware problems at the tracking stations.
Slava Turyshev of NASA's JPL in Pasadena thinks that the issue is worth exploring even if it turns out to be a gas leak, which is considered the most likely cause. Working on this problem forces space engineers to rethink their methods for very precise navigation in space. There is a possibility that upcoming space missions may be modified to try to verify (or disprove) the idea that unknown physical forces are behind the Pioneer anomaly.
However, no explanation based on conventional physics has been found; the effect is so persistent that it could indicate some physical principle not yet considered in previous explanations of the motions of the planets. Meanwhile, Pioneer 10 is on its way to the giant red star Aldebaran. Estimated time of arrival - 2 million years from now.
As soon as I read this story, I thought about the classic 1950 sf novel Brain Wave by Poul Anderson. At the time of the story, the sun moves out of a field that pervades a huge area of space, one which depresses electrochemical and electromagnetic phenomena - including human neural function. The result of the solar system leaving this field is that everyone on Earth immediately gains about one hundred IQ points due to increased synaptic speed.
Read more at Following in Pioneer's Footsteps and Aerospace analysis helps confirm unexplained pull on spacecraft.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/23/2004)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 41 )
Related News Stories -
SKYLON Space Plane Gets Boost
'They were more airplane than spaceship...'- Robert Heinlein, 1951.
Europe's Cheops To Look For Habitable Planets
'I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.'- Edmond Hamilton, 1936.
SpaceX Dragon First Private Craft To Dock With ISS
'Why, the ship wasn't a proper deep-space craft at all.'- Robert Heinlein, 1941.
SpaceX Dragon To Land On Any Planet
A space craft should be able to 'land on its fins' and take off again, don't you think?
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Britain To Build Spaceport, First In Europe
'The space-ports at the three great cities...'
MC10 Electronics Skin Stickers
'Every diaper... a fine copper wire…'
iSkin On-Body Touch Sensors
'Three rows of four colored dots appeared on the heel of my left hand.'
Robot Brains Improved By Darwinian Evolution
'The new species. Evolution. The race to come after man.'
Self-Deployable Habitat For Extreme Environments
'When you buy one of them, you don't need to tie up to an electric outlet.'
Audi's Chairless Chair Lower Body Exoskeleton
'Solved the problem to some extent by devising rigid metallic clothing...'
CreoPop 3D Pen Draws In Midair
'It makes drawings in the air...'
Seattle Police Body Cams, Ala Stross, Ala Dick
'Let's hear it for the vague blur!'
Autonomous Cars Will Own Themselves
'The robot drew his cab up before Eric's modest six-room bungalow.'
World's First 3D Printed Villa
'It makes drawings in the air following drawings...'
Hyperloop Track Starts Next Year
Brainflight Brain-Controlled Drone
'Mr Gant, you must think in Russian. Can you do that?'
Students Control Lab Experiments Remotely Via App
'Hello, Europa... Is this your robot I'm looking at, in sector 94?'
ROBEAR Nursing Care Robot
What other robots are strong enough to carry you? Do you want them to do so?
Testing New Spacesuits In 1929 And 2015
'I'm going to pump the air from this room... so that the interior will be like airless and pressure-less space.'
Space Station Kitchens 1929 and 2015
'Plates and cups ... slowly floated down to the floor and were not broken.'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories