New Horizons’ Pluto flyby has been a success as the NASA spacecraft has finally given us a glimpse of the cold, icy dwarf planet after a nearly decade long mission. NASA’s scientists took to Reddit to hold an AMA on the New Horizons mission and what they have learnt so far about the dwarf planet.
Team members who answered the questions on Reddit included: NASA Program Scientist Curt Niebur, Jillian Redfern, Senior Research Analyst, New Horizons Science Operations, Kelsi Singer, Post-Doc, New Horizons Science Team, Amanda Zangari, Post-Doc, New Horizons Science Team and Stuart Robbins, Research Scientist, New Horizons Science Team.
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For starters, NASA confirmed that those loved coloured pictures were indeed in true colour and not exaggerated. When asked “How close to true colour are the colour images returned so far? This image released today looks incredible, but is it true colour, or has the colour been exaggerated?,” NASA’s Jillian Redfern replied, “Yes it was true color!”
To that Kelsi Singer from NASA added, “Yes, we tried to get it as close to real color as possible :). We combine the wavelengths that we have and translate it into what the human eye would see.”
The other big question that one person was whether there was any water on Pluto. “Has the probe discovered more or less water than expected, or any water at all?,” posted Reddit user JefferyTheWalrus. To that NASA’s Amanda Zangari replied that so far no water has been spotted on Pluto. She added, “But if there is any water, we’ll see it when we get our LEISA scans. We’ve known about the water on Charon since the late 80s.”
So what surprised NASA the most about the Pluto mission? According to the answer on Reddit it was Charon’s (One of Pluto’s moons) dark pole. “We expected Charon’s surface to be mostly uniform and featureless,” wrote the NASA scientists.
Reddit users Iama_tomhanks also asked about what was next for New Horizons, what else NASA hopes to learn about Pluto and what information will be sent back.
NASA’s team replied that the next big step in the New Horizons mission to download the data. “It will take ~16 months to download the amazing data,” they wrote. On Pluto they said, the idea was to “learn about Pluto and its five known moons. The atmosphere, the geology, the composition of the rocks, and much much more,”
The team also pointed out that “New Horizons has seven instruments – ALICE, LORRI, PEPSSI, RALPH, REX, SDC, SWAP,” and “so lots of data will be coming down in addition to the images” that are already out.
And finally Reddit user sRs_Sparky asked about the popularity of space missions and whether it was affecting funding. “We frequently hear that public interest in space programs has steadily declined since the moon landing. How does interest in today’s unmanned missions (such as New Horizons) compare to say something like the moon landing? And does the level of public interest factor into funding of these types of projects,” he asked.
NASA’s Curt replied, “It’s hard to make direct comparisons because the way the public can interact with the missions is so different now. Does live coverage of an event on national TV in the 1960’s equate with websites and twitter feeds updating minute by minute? What I really love about our planetary science missions is that the public can ride along with us, and we want you to join us. These missions are YOUR missions.”
Read the full Reddit AMA here.