After over 15 months since the historic flyby of Pluto, NASA has finally finished the downlink of New Horizons' full set of data.
The last item was a segment of an observation sequence about Pluto and its largest moon Charon. It finally arrived at the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at 5.48 am EDT on October 25. This was the last of over 50 gigabits of data transmitted over the last year and a quarter. And you think your data plan is bad.
New Horizons is moving at 14 kilometers per second (32,500 mph), so it was designed to collect 100 times more data during its close approach than it could send home before it left the system. The probe started sending the high-priority data as soon as it was collected; the rest was downlinked from September 2015 onwards.
"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, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, 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. And that's exactly what we're going to do – after all, who knows when the next data from a spacecraft visiting Pluto will be sent?"
There are no plans yet for a follow-up mission, but while New Horizons' work around Pluto is over, its scientific mission continues. The spacecraft is currently speeding towards 2014 MU69, a reddish world at the edge of the Solar System that is believed to be similar to the building blocks that formed the planets.
The probe will reach MU69 on January 1, but until then the team will be busy analyzing all this data and consolidating what we know about Pluto and its moons.