Seven weeks after New Horizons sped past the Pluto system, the mission team has begun intensive downlinking of the tens of gigabits of data the spacecraft has collected.
The scientists started the transfer last Saturday – 5 September. But it will be a slow business, taking about one year to complete.
“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, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
“And what’s coming is not just the remaining 95% 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. ”
Even moving at light speed, the radio signals from New Horizons containing data need more than 4.5 hours to cover the 4.8 billion kilometres to reach Earth.
The images will be made available on the NASA website, here http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/soc/Pluto-Encounter/index.php