Pluto and the art of patience

certainly is art!

Leading Technical Communication

Last week, after a nine-year journey, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reached its destination and started sending back images and other data about Pluto and its moons. In their news conferences, the NASA scientists are practically giddy with excitement — as well they should be. The images have been breathtaking.

Pluto as seen by New Horizons Until very recently we knew this only as a spot of light (source: NASA)

These images are just the first taste of what’s to come, however.

Aimed at earth from 5 billion kilometers away, the signal from New Horizons is understandably weak. The bandwidth for the downlink is so limited (1,000 to 4,000 bits per second – much slower than a 1990s dial-up modem) that it’ll take until the end of 2015 just to get the compressed data. It might take until late 2016 to get all of the data in full resolution.

In other words, we’ll have to be patient

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