NASA says New Horizons’ downlink phase has begun, so we will begin receiving the probe’s Pluto photos over time. Unfortunately, due to technical realities, we will be waiting for quite a while before the NASA New Horizons download is done.
In a related report by the Inquisitr, NASA’s Hubble telescope found a double black hole lurking in a nearby quasar, and they claim the discovery allows researchers to systematically search for binary black holes in space.
Starting on September 5, New Horizons’ downlink phase began sending a “treasure trove” of information. Besides the high definition photos of Pluto, we will see Pluto’s moons, including Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.
“The New Horizons mission has required patience for many years, but from the small amount of data we saw around the Pluto flyby, we know the results to come will be well worth the wait,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
But what really excites NASA is the other data provided via the New Horizons probe.
“This is what we came for—these images, spectra and other data types that are going to help us understand the origin and the evolution of the Pluto system for the first time,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, according to their news release. “And what’s coming is not just the remaining 95 percent of the data that’s still aboard the spacecraft— it’s the best datasets, the highest-resolution images and spectra, the most important atmospheric datasets, and more. It’s a treasure trove.”
Unfortunately, New Horizons’ downlink phase will take quite a while. Even though radio signals move at light speed, the data from NASA’s New Horizons probe takes about 4.5 hours to reach Earth. In addition, we are essentially stuck like eager Napster users waiting on a dial-up modem since New Horizons’ download speed is limited to about one to four kilobits per second.
To put this speed in perspective, even a 56k modem is about nine times as fast. The high-resolution photos of Pluto are just starting to trickle onto the internet, but it will not be until October of 2016 that the process is complete. NASA is providing weekly updates on their LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) website, although some of their more spectacular Pluto photos can be seen on the main New Horizons website.
In the meantime, some scientists are hoping that New Horizons’ downlink phase may give us evidence of alien life in space. UK physicist Brian Cox, a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, believes the potential glaciers on Pluto’s surface point toward the existence of subterranean seas, and he hopes New Horizon’s photos may provide evidence to support his theory on organic life.
“New Horizons probe showed that there may be a subsurface ocean on Pluto which means – if our understanding of life on Earth is even slightly correct- that you could have living things there.”
Of course, it is a tad bit early to start announcing alien life in space, but it possible NASA’s New Horizons probe could provide a surprise or two.
[Images via NASA]