Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Newton and Orbital Mechanics

Note: this post was written ahead of time as I'm at a cabin for the week.  If the New Horizons probe has somehow been destroyed, please just ignore that while you read this.

If you read anything about orbital mechanics (and I read enough about space exploration that I do), you begin to have a handle on the size of Newton's breakthroughs.  He really started the idea of 'falling around' something as a way to visualize gravity's effects on planets and other orbiting bodies.
The New Horizons probe is set to pass by Pluto today after years and years of travel from Earth.  On its way, it did a slingshot past Jupiter to pick up speed.  This is a fairly common maneuver for space probes and it relies directly on Newton's understanding of gravity.
So, while you see new pictures of Pluto, take a moment to thank Newton for his help.

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