More than a year after New Horizons zoomed past the planet, the last bit of data has come trickling in.
It’s been a long time coming, but the last little bit of data from NASA’s New Horizons probe has finished arriving at Earth, more than a year after the spacecraft zoomed by Pluto in a dramatic and groundbreaking achievement by the space agency. The spacecraft had to send back 50-plus gigabits of data after flying past Pluto and its five moons on July 14, 2015, but finally the last of the data has come in, and the agency is gearing up for its next mission.
The data was coming in at an average of 2,000 bits per second, an incredibly slow speed due to the fact the spacecraft is more than 3 billion miles per Earth. The final data fragment was from the LEISA spectral camera on New Horizons. It took five hours and eight minutes for this last data to come in.
“The Pluto system data that New Horizons collected has amazed us over and over again with the beauty and complexity of Pluto and its system of moons,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “There’s a great deal of work ahead for us to understand the 400-plus scientific observations that have all been sent to Earth. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do—after all, who knows when the next data from a spacecraft visiting Pluto will be sent?”
Now, NASA is turning New Horizons’ sites to some fascinating and mysterious objects out in the Kuiper Belt. What more will we learn from this incredible spacecraft? We’ll see.
The statement adds: “Bowman said the team will conduct a final data-verification review before erasing the two onboard recorders, and clearing space for new data to be taken during the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission (KEM) that will include a series of distant Kuiper Belt object observations and a close encounter with a small Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.”