New Horizons’ next destination might be ring-free, too, promising a safe passage for the spacecraft
Southwest Research Institute/JHUAPL/NASA
Pluto has no rings — New Horizons triple-checked. An exhaustive search for rings and dust particles around the dwarf planet before, during and after the spacecraft flew past Pluto in 2015 has come up empty.
“It’s a very long paper to say we didn’t find anything,” says team member Tod Lauer of the analysis, posted online September 23 at arXiv.org. But the nonresult could help scientists understand the contents of the outer solar system — and help plan New Horizons’ next encounter. The spacecraft is now on a course to a space rock in the Kuiper Belt, another 1.5 billion kilometers past Pluto.
Before New Horizons arrived at Pluto, the possible existence of rings was an urgent matter of safety. Hitting a particle as small as a sand grain could have damaged the spacecraft.
Searches with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2011 and 2012