BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The last of Pluto’s secrets have finally been downloaded here on Earth, more than a year after the New Horizons spacecraft sped past the dwarf planet.
New Horizons, which was designed and controlled by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, left Earth in 2006.
It spent the next nine years traveling to the edge of the solar system. In July 2015, it finally reached its destination — Pluto and its moon Charon, which sparked celebration at APL’s headquarters in Laurel.
“Oh it’s just been incredible,” Dr. Hal Weaver told WJZ. “What a toy store for all the scientists.”
Flying by 8,000 miles above the surface of Pluto, New Horizons revealed mountains as high as the Rockies, and vast sheets of molecular nitrogen frozen into ice sheets.
All of it gathered within hours as the spacecraft approached and then sped away.
“We spent two years putting in this detailed sequence of operations to get every last bit that we possibly could,” Weaver said. “Squeeze as much science out of this as possible.”
And it took until last week to get the last of it.
Three billion miles and small transmitters took 15 months to finish the job.
“You’re really only as strong as your weakest link and just everything worked beautifully,” Weaver said.
“And we found another object we can fly by on January the first 2019.”
The object is in the heart of the Kuiper belt, the leftover material that formed not just Pluto, but all the planets.
New Horizons is now 350 million miles past Pluto, traveling over 30,000 miles per hour.