The US space agency NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft that was orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto as achieved another feat by sending the last bits of data captured during the exploration of the dwarf planet. You will be astonished to know that the last bit of data was captured in July, 2015 and it took nearly a year for the data to reach here on Earth; thanks to very large distance between the spacecraft and Earth for the very slow data transfer rate.
According to NASA records, New Horizons that took nearly ten years to reach Pluto has traveled over 3.4 billion miles, or 5.5 billion kilometers (five hours, eight minutes at light speed), the final item – a segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager – arrived at mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, at 5:48 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25. The downlink came via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. It was the last of the 50-plus total gigabits of Pluto system data transmitted to Earth by New Horizons over the past 15 months.
“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?”
New Horizons was capturing beautiful shots of Pluto and its Moon at 100 times faster rate when it was still before flying onward which resulted in high volume of data. NASA scientists explained that the spacecraft could captured data at much higher rate when it has only shot at its target. The spacecraft was programmed to send select, high-priority datasets home in the days just before and after close approach, and began returning the vast amount of remaining stored data in September 2015.
“We have our pot of gold,” said Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, of APL.
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.