Naps are empirically great. Sadly, our gig economy world frowns upon R&R; as an adult, it isn’t socially acceptable to curl up and take a nap at work, no matter how tired or hungover or burdened with ennui you are. Instead, we reward children, who do little besides breathe and create turmoil, with the gift of “nap time”. Thankfully, a hard-working someone — or, rather something — out there is finally getting a well-deserved snooze.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which has been busy studying the Pluto system and the space beyond it since 6 December 2014, has officially entered a hibernation period, according to NASA. The spacecraft entered its deep sleep on April 7 and won’t wake up again until September 11.
This spacecraft’s siesta will be a boon for its team back on Earth, who are busy analysing data from the Pluto flyby and preparing for the next few years, and it will allow NASA’s Deep Space Network, which tracks and communicates with spacecraft, to focus on other projects. While New Horizon will mostly be powered down, the spacecraft’s onboard system will broadcast a monthly report on its health back to Earth, just to make sure everything’s running smoothly.
Meanwhile, the New Horizons team will be planning for what happens after the spacecraft wakes up. The probe is heading toward a mysterious object in the Kuiper Belt known as MU69, with a close encounter set for 1 January 2019. This object, which has been observed by Hubble, has a distinctly red hue because of tholins, a class of organic solids also present on Pluto. As our first close encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object, scientists are hopeful the MU69 flyby will tell us a great deal about the formation of the solar system.
Ultimately, a nap will do New Horizons and its mission operators here on Earth some good. It will have another rest sometime next year before it meets MU69 so it can wake up refreshed and ready to do some science. Good for you, li’l spacecraft, you deserve it.