Space­craft sends back last bit of data from 2015 Pluto flyby

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

NASA’s New Hori­zons space­craft has sent back the last bit of data from its 2015 flyby of Pluto. The pic­ture - one of a se­quence of shots of Pluto and its big moon, Charon - ar­rived ear­lier this week at Mis­sion Con­trol in Mary­land. It took more than five hours for the im­age to reach Earth from New Hori­zons, some 3 bil­lion miles away. “We did it! Pluto data down­load com­plete!!” prin­ci­pal sci­en­tist Alan Stern cheered via Twit­ter on Thurs­day. “We have our pot of gold,” mis­sion oper­a­tions man­ager Alice Bow­man added in a state­ment.

New Hori­zons swooped past Pluto on July 14, 2015. It’s now headed to an even smaller, frozen orb in the far reaches of the so­lar sys­tem. That close en­counter is tar­geted for 2019. Mis­sion man­agers opted to save all the Pluto data on New Hori­zons’ dig­i­tal recorders, in or­der to max­i­mize ob­serv­ing time. Only the high­est pri­or­ity sets of in­for­ma­tion were sent back in the days be­fore and af­ter the flyby, pro­vid­ing hu­man­ity’s first up-close look at Pluto. It wasn’t un­til Septem­ber 2015 when the real data trans­mis­sion be­gan.

In all, more than 50 gi­ga­bits of data were re­layed over the past 15 months to Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity’s Ap­plied Physics Lab­o­ra­tory in Lau­rel, Mary­land. The fi­nal data ar­rived Tues­day, and NASA an­nounced the safe ar­rival Thurs­day. The team will make ab­so­lutely cer­tain noth­ing got left be­hind, be­fore eras­ing the recorders to make room for fu­ture ob­ser­va­tions, Bow­man said. Stern noted it will take “a great deal of work” to un­der­stand all the amaz­ing ob­ser­va­tions made by New Hori­zons. “Who knows when the next data from a space­craft vis­it­ing Pluto will be sent?” he said in a state­ment.

New Hori­zons came within 7,700 miles of Pluto, fol­low­ing a jour­ney of 9 1/2 years. Now the space­craft is 350 mil­lion miles from the dwarf planet and aim­ing for 2014 MU69, an­other re­mote ob­ject in our so­lar sys­tem’s far­away twi­light zone known as the Kuiper Belt. This next des­ti­na­tion will make Pluto look im­mense; the an­cient 2014 MU69 is thought to be no more than 30 miles across, barely 1 per­cent the size of Pluto, which in turn is con­sid­er­ably smaller than Earth’s moon. —AP

This im­age re­leased by NASA on Thurs­day, Oct. 8, 2015 shows a haze layer sur­round­ing Pluto, pho­tographed by the New Hori­zons space­craft. This im­age was gen­er­ated by soft­ware that com­bines in­for­ma­tion from blue, red and near-in­frared im­ages to repli­cate the color a hu­man eye would per­ceive as closely as pos­si­ble. —AP

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