NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past the dwarf planet back in July 2015, and now the agency has hit a big milestone.
It’s been more than a year since NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past the dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system, and now the space agency is reporting that scientists have received the last bits of data from the probe once and for all, closing the book on the historic mission.
Engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory received the last of the data beamed back by the spacecraft this week, NASA said in a statement. It marks the end of an incredible journey and what is sure to go down as one of NASA’s crowning achievements in its storied history.
It took about five hours for the last little bit of data to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station located in Australia. As New Horizons got further and further from Earth, it took longer and longer for scientists to download the data, which came in at a trickle, traveling more than 3 billion miles.
The last data includes some observations of Pluto and its moon Charon, which was taken with the Ralph/LEISA imager on the New Horizons spacecraft. Now, researchers will delete the storage drives on the probe to make room for new data as New Horizons starts a new mission: to explore some mysterious Kuiper belt objects starting in 2019.
“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?”