Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Demise of New Horizons

The following communiqué was received at NPHQ this afternoon via Keln’s extremely temperamental and woefully out-dated ansible.  I swear it would be more efficient to learn Morse code than to listen to that thing, but since by all indications it was a possible future ME that sent the message, I’m going ahead and writing up the after-action report.

Artist's rendition

Please note: One additional thing that’s “by all indications” is that the future ME is an untrustworthy source, and although I don’t know whether this is because of the machinations of quantum chaos affecting time itself, or because one day I apparently just decide to chuck morality out the window, steal Keln’s ansible, and start trolling the past is as yet unknown.

So take this with a grain of salt.

JULY 14, 2015

Roughly two and a quarter hours into the 12-hour Pluto mission, and almost 30 minutes before the spacecraft was scheduled to go communications-dark in order to concentrate on the fly-by, New Horizons suffered a what appears to be a catastrophic impact and has not been heard from again.

Scientists waited until the conclusion of the scheduled black-out before alerting the press to the situation, and after many hours of attempting to hail the probe, they now consider New Horizons to be lost.  NASA is going over all the data bit by bit and frame by frame in an attempt to determine the cause.

NPHQ Special Message: Check for charge disparity.

OK, so there you have it in its entirety.  Frankly, I think it is a bunch of hogwash but I’m going to take a moment to attempt to explain this JUST IN CASE we end up accidentally making an accurate, once-in-a-billion prediction.

“Check the charge disparity” is a clue as to who sent the message. It is an overly wordy way of saying “voltage drop”, and is a strong indication that one day soon I’m the person who will send it (or at least dictate it).

The quasi-former-cartoon-planet Pluto moves relatively slowly in its orbit around the Sun, and since it coasts through a faint, thin, conductive medium (contrary to what you’ve been taught, space is NOT empty), it has long ago reached electrical equilibrium with its surrounding environment.  This is not the case for the New Horizons probe, which flew up the intervening power gradient, i.e. heliocentric current sheet, i.e. solar wind, too quickly to stay at charge equilibrium along the way.  (Please see Princeton University's "Fundamentals ofSpacecraft Charging", or the IEEE's "Spacecraft and Surface ChargingMitigation" if you seek further punishment along these lines.)

Not a Paid Endorsement.

Thus, when New Horizons got close enough to Pluto – with “close enough” apparently being “roughly two and a quarter hours into the 12-hour Pluto mission” – a massive electrical discharge event took place between craft and planet (YES, I’m calling it a “planet”), destroying the probe.

Click to Enlarge

And let me add that I will be forever thankful that New Horizons was not one of those new-fangled “two part” probes, with one part trailing the other while videoing the fly-by, else the world would be in flames right now from rioting UFO nuts, because the plasmoid transfer between the two would have looked right at home in Star Wars.

Anyways, and here’s the big let-down, but I don’t expect this “prediction” to actually come true, for a number of reasons.

1st, I don’t think the charge disparity between Pluto and New Horizons is going to be large enough.  Oh it’s there, all right, but I don’t think it is “catastrophic damage” worthy.

2nd, If I remember my fundamental plasma cosmology correctly, I think New Horizons and Pluto will both effectively be positively charged, however slightly, and thus there should be no “potential difference” to be discharged between the two.  If anything, look for one of those slight, seemingly inexplicable navigation errors that have plagued ALL our other deep space probes, which in this case if detectable at all will be so minor as to be hard to find amidst the data noise, and will likely be automatically handled by attitude jets.

So there you have it! 

The present-day ME is on record with saying that it is very, very likely nothing at all untoward will happen to the New Horizons space probe, while if I’m wrong about that because I’ve overlooked something, then the tragic disaster can best be explained as the fault of the combination of “Spacecraft Charging” and “Planet Charging” being (as one would expect) NOT EVEN CLOSE to equilibrium.

Hopefully future ME is just trolling us again, and not at this relative moment taking refuge from rampaging hordes of UFO enthusiasts. 

Hat tip: CNN

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