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What's Next After New Horizons Sent Final Pluto Data? Scientists to Analyze 'Pot of Gold' from Dwarf Planet

Oct 31, 2016 08:08 AM EDT
New Horizons Nears July 14 Flyby Of Pluto
NASA's New Horizons probe finished sending Pluto flyby data back to Earth. After the transfer, the data will be deleted from the spacecraft that will proceed to its extended mission in a mysterious object in the Kuiper Belt.
(Photo : NASA/APL/SwRI via Getty Images)

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft conducted a flyby to dwarf planet Pluto in July 2015 and the spacecraft recently finished beaming back the data to Earth. 

This marked not the end, but the beginning for more scientific analysis of the information sent by the spacecraft that might reveal new and surprising discoveries about Pluto and the Kuiper Belt in general. 

It took the New Horizons probe a total of 15 months to send back to Earth more than 50 gigabytes of data from the successful Pluto flyby, according to Engadget

The images were taken with the help of Ralph/LEISA image aboard New Horizon. The data arrived at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland at 5:48 am last Oct. 25. The downlink was coursed through NASA's Deep Space Network in Canberra, Australia.

"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," Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado said in a press release. "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?" Stern added.

The one-shot mission to gather data from Pluto made the flyby more interesting. The spacecraft was designed to gather the as much data in a very short span of time. Based on NASA's description, New Horizons can gather 100 times more data about the dwarf planet and its moons. Although the spacecraft was programmed to sent high-priority data from its close approach, immediately before and after the flyby, the bulk of its data were stored and then sent to Earth for the last 15 months.

These new data is considered valuable by scientists as it may be able to provide new and interesting information about Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. "We have our pot of gold," Mission Operations manager Alice Bowman of APL said in a statement.

The scientist will verify the data and will proceed to delete the stored information on New Horizon's onboard recorders to make way for new information for its Kuiper Belt Extended Mission (KEM).


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