New Delhi: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has safely sent back the last bits of scienc data - more than 50 gigabits of information - it collected during its Pluto flyby in July 2015 to Earth.
Early in the morning at 5:48 a.m. EDT on October 25, the final item - a segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager onboard the New Horizons spacecraft - arrived at mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, NASA said.
The downlink came via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. NASA says 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?”
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.
New Horizons launched on January 19, 2006, made its closest approach with Pluto on July 14, 2015, when it flew 12,500 km above the surface of the dwarf planet.