“You left spacedock without a tractor beam?”: Mysterious force holds back NASA probes

Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations:

Kirk: You left spacedock without a tractor beam?
Harriman: It doesn’t arrive until Tuesday.

The Telegraph:

A space probe launched 30 years ago has come under the influence of a mysterious force that has baffled scientists and could rewrite the laws of physics. Researchers say Pioneer 10, which took the first close-up pictures of Jupiter before leaving our solar system in 1983, is being pulled back to the sun by an unknown force. The effect shows no sign of getting weaker as the spacecraft travels deeper into space, and scientists are considering the possibility that the probe has revealed a new force of nature.

Tractorbeam arriving on Tuesday

“If the effect is real, it will have a big impact on cosmology and spacecraft navigation,” said Dr Laing, of the Aerospace Corporation of California. Pioneer 10 was launched by Nasa on March 2 1972, and with Pioneer 11, its twin, revolutionised astronomy with detailed images of Jupiter and Saturn. In June 1983, Pioneer 10 passed Pluto, the most distant planet in our solar system.

pt:Trajectória da sonda Pioneer 10 em Jupiter

Pioneer 10 trajectory

Research to be published shortly in The Physical Review, a leading physics journal, will show that the speed of the two probes is being changed by about 6 mph per century – a barely-perceptible effect about 10 billion times weaker than gravity.

Assertions by some scientists that the force is due to a quirk in the Pioneer probes have also been discounted by the discovery that the effect seems to be affecting Galileo and Ulysses, two other space probes still in the solar system. Data from these two probes suggests the force is of the same strength as that found for the Pioneers.

Dr Duncan Steel, a space scientist at Salford University, says even such a weak force could have huge effects on a cosmic scale. “It might alter the number of comets that come towards us over millions of years, which would have consequences for life on Earth. It also raises the question of whether we know enough about the law of gravity.”

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