New Horizons phones home about Pluto:
LAUREL, Md. — Signals from a spacecraft 3 billion miles away swept over Earth on Tuesday, confirming that NASA's New Horizons probe survived its history-making Pluto flyby.
The radio signals were received by a Deep Space Network antenna in Spain four and a half hours after they were sent out from the spacecraft at the speed of light, and a full 13 hours after the probe made its close pass. But they electrified hundreds of VIPs, journalists and Pluto fans here at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory as if the main event had just happened.
The transmission not only assured the team that the piano-sized spacecraft was in good health, nine and a half years after its launch, but it also suggested that groundbreaking images and observations of Pluto and its moons would be streaming in from New Horizons for months to come.
The flyby actually took place at 7:49 a.m. ET Tuesday, with New Horizons traveling at more than 30,000 mph (50,000 kilometers per hour) and coming within 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) of the dwarf planet's mottled surface. But the spacecraft was so busy making observations that it couldn't turn its antenna back toward Earth to send the all-clear signal until hours later.
To mark the occasion, NASA released a colorized view of the dwarf planet that was sent back to Earth before New Horizons went out of contact on Monday night. The picture featured the dwarf planet's bright heart-shaped region as well as the head of a dark "whale" feature. It was part of a "fail-safe" series of observations that were made just in case the spacecraft suffered a catastrophic failure during the flyby.
|Actually, not "real slow." New Horizons is traveling at 30,000 miles per hour.|
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