Talk about a long download time. Scientists on Earth have finally received the last data package from the New Horizons spacecraft’s Pluto flyby last year, NASA reported on Thursday.
The data had to travel an astounding 3.4 billion miles, taking over five hours to cover the distance between the craft and Earth before being received at a Deep Space Network site in Australia. The space agency said that it took so long for them to receive all of the data from Pluto because the probe was designed to collect as much information as possible during its flyby, then transmit it back by priority level.
“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,” Alan Stern, the principal investigator on the New Horizons mission, said in a statement. “There’s a great deal of work ahead for us to understand the 400-plus scientific observations that have all been sent to Earth.”
First launched in 2006, New Horizons was designed to study Pluto and its moons, which it did during a historic flyby on July 14 of last year. Its discoverieson Pluto include a huge nitrogen glacier, a giant mountain range, and the reason the dwarf planet’s moon Charon has a red patch on it.
Scientists will erase the data on New Horizons to make space to gather more information as it continues zooming away from Earth, NASA said. Its next destination is a distant object called 2014 MU69, and the probe’s scheduled arrival there is January 1, 2019.
Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger