NASA scientists are baffled when they discovered the "Pioneer Anomaly," where unexplained forces acting on spacecraft as they fly past Earth on their way out of the solar system:
Mysteriously, five 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 five 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.