On Pluto: Ashes, Plutonium And Kilobytes

Ralph M. RiveraScienceLeave a Comment

Yesterday I wrote about my elementary school fascination with HA Rey's book Find The Constellations. In 2008 that book was updated to better describe Pluto's status in the universe. Today's events may require yet another rewrite.

Yesterday I wrote about my elementary school fascination with HA Rey’s book Find The Constellations. In 2008 that book was updated to better describe Pluto’s status in the universe. Today’s events may require yet another rewrite.

The New Horizons vehicle has just passed Pluto and is now marching on to its next journey into the Kuiper Belt. But a lot has been learned about the little dwarf planet as a result of this mission. Here are a few mission details I found exciting and interesting.

The vehicle is powered by converting heat emitted by plutonium into electricity. The element plutonium is named after Pluto. So essentially, humans sent plutonium to Pluto. The decay of the onboard plutonium is expected to power New Horizons for another 20 or so years bringing the vehicle roughly 100 astronomical units from the Earth. An astronomical unit is the distance between the Earth and its sun.

If you are my age, you know how frustrating 56K modems were. You probably even remember the dreaded 14K modem. At its fastest rate, NASA receives data from New Horizons at 4K per second. At that rate all of the data gathered during the Pluto flyby encounter will take about a year to be collected on Earth. Now that’s some slow download speed.

Probably the most interesting thing about the mission is that Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto, has been on board the vehicle for its entire journey. His ashes are held in a container bolted onto the vehicle.

The vehicle is also home to a number of other trinkets from our home world that may some day play the role of greeting card to another civilization.

Finally, after a 3 billion mile journey, New Horizons hit its flyby window missing dead center by just 70 miles.

These are my 300 words for the day. I am Ralph M. Rivera.

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Yesterday I wrote about my elementary school fascination with HA Rey's book Find The Constellations. In 2008 that book was updated to better describe Pluto's status in the universe. Today's events may require yet another rewrite.