NASA’s New Horizons mission team announced that the piano-sized craft, which made history on July 14 when it performed the first flyby of planet Pluto, started to send home the rest of the data it took during the event on Saturday.
So, expect every week to learn new things about the remote dwarf planet and see raw exclusive pictures taken during the flyby. NASA said that it would start posting unedited images of the planet on its site Friday (September 11), and the agency plans to continue doing it every Friday until all the data is sent to Earth.
According to mission investigators, New Horizons was able to send just 5 percent of the info it has gathered on Pluto so far. The rest of the 95 percent is expected to reach servers on our planet in the next 12 months.
The photos already sent by the probe, which were taken from a 7,800-mile distance, were beamed back shortly after the historic encounter. The rest of the data was stored on the craft’s drivers for later transmission.
Mission investigators disclosed that dozens of gigabits of exclusive scientific data are queuing to be transmitted. Scientists hope that the material would help them better understand the history of the dwarf planet and of our solar system.
New Horizons investigators plan to extend the mission and send the probe to a Kuiper Belt object dubbed PT 1. The probe is expected to reach its new target by 2019, and start in late October. Nevertheless, NASA needs to approve the necessary funding for the mission.
This is why the transmission of the Pluto flyby data including highest-resolution imagery, spectral images of the planet and scientific measurements made within the atmosphere will take so long. As New Horizons gets farther from Earth (PT 1 is located 6 billion km away from our planet), the radio signals would have to travel even longer distances to reach Earth.
The data transmitted by NASA’s orbiter will be received by the agency’s Deep Space Network, a network of radio dishes located in California, Australia and Europe.
The transmission rate would be between 1 and 4 Kbps, and each signal would require 4.5 hours to reach our planet even though they travel close to the speed of light, NASA reported.
New Horizons is currently located 3 billion miles away from our home planet.
The imagery that already reached Earth shows a silent icy world with ice mountains and younger-than-expected plains.
Image Source: Wikimedia