Uneven heat emission sending Pioneers 10 and 11 off course

7 July 2008

The mystery surrounding the unexplained course deviations of deep space probes Pioneers 10 and 11, which are currently somewhere in the vicinity of the Solar System’s Kuiper Belt, may have been solved. At least partly, that is.

Slava Turyshev, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has spent the last two years studying data from the probes, which were launched in the 1970s, and concluded that uneven heat build-up across their structures is causing the trajectory anomalies:

Pioneer 11 gives off heat in certain directions more than others. The uneven heat emission is enough to nudge the spacecraft off course, accounting for 28% to 36% of the anomaly detected when Pioneer 11 was 3750 million kilometres, or 25 times the Earth-sun distance, away from us.

Originally published Monday 7 July 2008.


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