While not exactly archaeology, at least the New Horizons craft is still generating data about our history. The dwarf planet and the Kuiper Belt which lies beyond are a relics of solar system’s formation. From these we will learn a great deal more about the early stages of our own plant’s existence – and thus, our own.
Amazingly, the New Horizons craft was launched on Jan 19, 2006. It swung past Jupiter at more than 50,000 mph and received a ‘gravity boost’ in February 2007, passing close by Pluto on Tuesday of this week – a mere 60km closer to the planet than had been planned – not a bad margin for a 9 year mission!
Messages take 4 hours and 25 minutes to reach earth and apparently it is going to take up to 16 months for all of the data captured in the ‘Pluto fly past’ to be downloaded to computers here on earth!
Operations manager Alice Bowman confirmed that New Horizons' solid state recorder should be full of data. "The expected number of segments on that recorder had been used. That tells us that that data has been collected on the spacecraft," she explained.
Click here for a great clip showing the excitement at mission control.
Click here for more info can be found at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory dedicated site.
You can see some great stuff from NASA if you click here
So, what have we learned so far?
Well, that first that we can get a spacecraft to out reaches of the solar system! Secondly we have learned that Pluto appears more topographically diverse than was previously thought, though I have seen no suggestions of why – apart from a vague indication of underlying plate techtonics. Thirdly Pluto is red rather than blue. Fourthly, Pluto is apparently larger than was previously thought. Fifthly, Pluto’s surface is covered with large areas of nitrogen ice.
Click here to “Meet the other red planet”
It is too easy to take this stuff for granted!! WOW!
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