NASA Baffled by Unexplained Force Acting on Space Probes
Mysteriously, four spacecraft that flew past the Earth have each displayed unexpected anomalies in their motions.
These newfound enigmas join the so-called “Pioneer anomaly” as hints that unexplained forces may appear to act on spacecraft.
A decade ago, after rigorous analyses, anomalies were seen with the identical Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft as they hurtled out of the solar system. Both seemed to experience a tiny but unexplained constant acceleration toward the sun.
A host of explanations have been bandied about for the Pioneer anomaly. At times these are rooted in conventional science — perhaps leaks from the spacecraft have affected their trajectories. At times these are rooted in more speculative physics — maybe the law of gravity itself needs to be modified.
Now Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomer John Anderson and his colleagues — who originally helped uncover the Pioneer anomaly — have discovered that four spacecraft each raced either a tiny bit faster or slower than expected when they flew past the Earth en route to other parts of the solar system.