If you think that July 14 historic flyby of Pluto resulted in too little imagery or data, that’s because NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft didn’t finish beaming back all the information on the icy dwarf planet it collected in the process.
NASA announced that the craft has began sending back a huge batch of data on Saturday, but it may take a year before the entire scientific material reaches Earth. NASA researchers explained that there are tens of gigabits of precious data about the remote planet stored on the craft’s drive.
New Horizons team selected the high priority data sets to be downloaded first, but picking which one has a higher priority gave the team lots of headaches. Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator explained that the new data may help scientists better understand the geology and history of Pluto.
Stern explained that 5 percent of data already reached Earth, but the remaining 95 percent is not less important. That data-set contains high resolution close-ups of the planet, spectral imagery, atmospheric measurements, and many more.
“It’s a treasure trove,”
Additionally, raw images taken ny New Horizon’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) would be posted on the mission website’s every Friday. NASA announced that it would upload the first batch of Pluto images this Friday (Sept. 11).
During the Pluto flyby, New Horizons was ordered to gather as much data as it could in the least time possible. As it whizzed by the icy world and its moons, the piano-sized craft stored the troves of data to its digital recorders. The data was expected to reach Earth on a later date because of the distance.
Data is now stored on a couple of 8Gb flash-memory-card-like drives which are managed by the spacecraft’s main processor. The processor encrypts, compresses, stores and sorts the most relevant data just like digital camera processors do.
But transmitting so many gigabytes of raw data through empty space may take a lot of time because New Horizons is already getting even farther from Earth as it tries to reach its next target – a distant object in the Kuiper Belt.
So, a single radio signal from the craft to our planet requires four hours and a half to cover the 3 billion mile gap between the two. This is why the ‘downlink’ rate is incredibly slower than the Internet speeds on Earth.
NASA team said that eight years ago New Horizons beamed back data collected during a Jupiter flyby at a rate of 38 kbps. Nevertheless, because of the long distance the Pluto data should reach speeds of up to 1-4 kbps, NASA team estimates.
Image Source: Wikipedia