As you probably know, it’s been a crazy exciting week for space geeks around the world. Unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid all news sources and social media in the last few days, you’ve probably at least been aware of the fact that this week marked a historic moment in humanity’s relationship with our solar system. After over nine years of travel, the NASA probe New Horizons has finally reached its primary destination. On July 14, at 11:49 UTC, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto during its long awaited flyby.
So what does this mean for us back here on earth? What have we actually gained from this historic mission?
Well, the truth is that we don’t know yet. New Horizons has passed the apex of its flyby trajectory, but its mission is far from over. The probe is still collecting data about the Pluto system as it moves away from it and further into the Kuiper belt. And the vast majority of the data that has been collected has yet to be downloaded by NASA here on earth. According to spokespersons from NASA, as of the 17th of July they have downloaded less then 5% of the available data. They will be continuing to download new data over the next few months. And even for the tiny percentage of data that we have so far, the analysis and study of the data has only just begun. The raw information we have collected in the last week will be the focus of investigation for many years to come.
So if we are only at the beginning of a process of data interpretation and study that will take years, why am I still hyperventilating?
BECAUSE THIS IS SO FREAKING COOL, THAT’S WHY!!!!
Just look at these freaking pictures!
What’s cooler then new information? Not much.
So, given that we have only begun to look at all the new data on Pluto and its moons, what is there to say at this point? Well, here are a few of my personal reactions to what’s been happening this week. Get ready guys, this is going to be some deep intellectual shit.
Cryovolcanism is the coolest word I have ever heard. Seriously. Word of the freaking year.
When will Pluto share his secrets for youthful-looking terrain with the rest of us? I have a few impact craters I could stand to erode over myself.
Naming a mountain range on Pluto after Tenzing Norgay, one of the two people who were the first humans to scale Everest but who has traditionally not gotten his share of the credit, is a very cool thing to do. Now hurry up and make it official.
I may end all phone conversations and video conferences from now on with the phrase “science never sleeps.” Dwayne Brown kinda rocks.
I thought for a while that I was going crazy, but it turns out there’s a reason that every single NASA scientist was pronouncing the name of Pluto’s primary moon “wrong.” The moon “Charon” is only sort of named after the Greek ferryman of the underworld. It’s also sort of named after the wife of the man who discovered it. His name was James Christy; her name was Char. Many people still pronounce Charon with a soft sh sound instead of a hard k sound because of her. Neat.
And that’s pretty much it for me at this point. I can’t wait to hear how things play out as the huge quantities of data that are being downloaded get analyzed. But seriously, what could I possibly contribute to the conversation at this stage? Many of our assumptions about Pluto and its moons have been stood on their head, and I’m going to need to wait for much smarter people then me to make sense of it first before I’ve got a hope of understanding it all. But I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to hear all the latest news.
So remember folks, science never sleeps.