It’s been 9 years since the spacecraft called New Horizons was launched into outer space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. On July 14th, it finally reached its destination: the icy dwarf planet Pluto.
As we all know, Pluto was once regarded as one of the nine planets of the solar system. It was demoted to dwarf planet status by the International Astronomical Union on August 24, 2006, which saddened a lot of Pluto enthusiasts. Numerous memes have sprung up online, some of which depict a sad, teary-eyed Pluto. Though if you check the web now you’ll find plenty of cute memes involving a grateful Pluto. But enough about that; let’s talk about the juicy tech details.
Getting to know Pluto
Knowing more about Pluto has always been one of the greatest dreams of astronomers and planetary scientists. Here’s what we do know:
- It’s located more than 3.6 BILLION miles (5.8 BILLION kilometers) away from the sun. When Earth and Pluto are on opposite sides of the sun, we are 4.6 Billion miles away (7.5 billion km). And when we are the closest to each other, Pluto is “only” 2.7 billion miles away (4.28 billion km).
- And as you’ve read, it took 9 years for New Horizons to reach this small ex-planet. That’s how far it is.
- Radio signals take 4.4 hrs to get back to Earth.
- The transmission speed is only like a dial-up modem (remember those?). Only 1 Kilobit per second. So it takes 42 minutes for a single lossless image to be transmitted back to us.
- All of the data gathered in July will take a full year to transmit back to Earth.
New Horizons, with its lineup of seven high-tech instruments, was able to gather a lot of information about Pluto and as you see from above, it won’t be until later next year when we’ll have received most of the information. Exciting and this is only the beginning!