News Reality

The Pluto Flyby Is Nearing Its End, But We Can Still Visit In VR

by www.huffingtonpost.com

I started tracking around the Sputnik Planum on the left chamber of Pluto’s icy heart. I picked up a rock bigger than myself and threw it to watch it float away in the slow motion that comes with low gravity. I went up icy mountains, and looked around — there were miles of rugged cratered terrain, bearing witness to the dwarf planet’s old history of meteor showers. Then I went back to my virtual spaceship, hovering under a starry sky and a dim blob of a sun, to transport myself to Krun Macula, the dark regions named after a mythical lord of the underworld.

It can be both exhilarating and dizzying to walk up and down Pluto’s cliffs in the immersive world of virtual reality, especially for the uninitiated like me. But I was mostly amazed to find myself in a virtual world composed entirely of images and data acquired and sent to Earth by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft only a year ago.

My virtual visit to Pluto took place at an event held by CuriosityStream, a young company that provides subscription-based streaming of documentary film. The VR experience is an appendix to an 11-episode series called “Destination: Pluto,” said Jorge Franzini, a producer of the series. 

Planetary scientist Alan Stern, the principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, also got a chance to put on goggles and walk around.

“I was very impressed. I want them to VR the rest of the planet. The samples they did were fabulous,” he said. 

It all started with a postal stamp in 1991, which read “Pluto Not Yet Explored.” That’s how Stern likes to begin telling the story of the Pluto mission and how scientists were motivated to better understand the dwarf planet’s unique status in our solar system.

Pluto, first discovered in 1930, is so far away that hardly any reliable data about it could make it to Earth. But in July 2015, on its 9-year, 3-billion-mile journey, New Horizons flew past Pluto. The spacecraft’s high-resolution photos revealed its surprisingly complex geology: glaciers of nitrogen ice, avalanches, old traces of once-flowing rivers, volcanoes and mountain peaks some 11,000 feet tall. (The “Pluto Not Yet Explored” stamp also traveled with the spacecraft as an onboard memento, setting a Guinness World Record for the farthest distance traveled by a stamp.)

New Horizons has continued phoning home data from the flyby, which ends this month. It will then continue its journey in the Kuiper Belt ? the part of the solar system beyond Neptune’s orbit ? to reach another object some 1 billion miles beyond Pluto by 2019.

About 95 percent of New Horizons data is already home, and scientists have learned about some major features in the icy world. “We were very surprised to find out that Pluto is still geologically alive,” Stern said. “It has upended our ideas of how planetary geophysics works.”

Pluto is so small and so far from the sun that most scientists expected it to freeze beyond any chance of creating new geology today.

“Obviously that naive idea is incorrect. And Pluto proved that once and for all,” Stern said. “Now we’re back at the drawing board, trying to figure out how small planets work.”

We were very surprised to find out that Pluto is still geologically alive. It has upended our ideas of how planetary geophysics works. Planetary scientist Alan Stern

Pluto’s complexity was another surprise. Most planetary bodies in the solar system have a few major feature types. Take the moon or Mercury. They’re virtually all craters, with some mountain ranges created by cratering. Some less-typical planetary objects have five or six features. Pluto has a dozen more.

“It’s just the whole package. For being so small, it’s the most complex small planet that we’ve ever seen. It’s as complex as larger planets like Mars or the Earth,” Stern said.

Pluto has also uniquely engaged people. The mission’s webpage received over 2 billion views in one day. The news of the flyby was on the front page of hundreds of newspapers. Space people or scientists weren’t the only ones interested in the Pluto mission, Stern says. It became part of the social fabric and, of course, an internet phenomenon.

Now with 9000x more heart breaking.

That massive social engagement, Stern says, illustrates the mission’s inspirational power. He’s received letters and has had conversations with people after his talks and in the airport who share their fascination or tell him their kids now want to go into science and engineering. 

“Hopefully, this will inspire people to do even bigger things. Because there are so many big challenges to rid the world of poverty and pollution, and to do that, it’s going to happen through technology. We need to inspire more people to go into tech careers to solve problems like these, and space exploration is one way to do that.”

Now that New Horizons is off to exploring other Kuiper Belt objects, Stern is expecting many more surprises. 

“You could not have predicted the amazing discoveries at Pluto, even though we have been to a couple of objects in the solar system that were at least a little analogous to Pluto,” Stern said. “We’ve never been to anything like where we are going next, either. I don’t make predictions, except to say to expect to see something wonderful.”

I asked Stern what really went through his mind when he first saw there was a heart shape on Pluto. “I was in a room where the data was being displayed, hot off the press, and one of our media people said it’s heart-shaped. And I thought, ‘Oh that’s silly,’” he recalled.

“But then I looked up and saw that it really did look like a heart. We knew that would make Pluto a lot more approachable to the public. I mean, who can’t like a heart?” Stern continued. “Like many aspects of this mission, the public participation was phenomenal ? and I always say, ‘Pluto did its part.’”

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.


Read Full Article On www.huffingtonpost.com
Latest
BEIJING (Reuters) - China has set up a 100 billion yuan ($14.55 billion) fund to support investment in the internet sector, said official news agency Xinhua on Sunday.
“Victorious” was canceled back in 2013, but some of the cast have remained good friends off-cam and continue to hang out to this day.  For instance, Ariana Grande, who has since become an internation
FOX will release two new episodes of “Lucifer” Season 2 before the series goes on a long hiatus until May.
ISRO’s workhorse PSLV-C37 rocket carrying no less than 103 satellites will be launched in the first week of February. 100 out of the 103 satellites are foreign, while only 3 are Indian.
Demi Lovato attended Women’s March Los Angeles this Saturday. At the event, the singer-actress stumbled upon U2’s guitarist The Edge (real name David Howell Evans), took a snap with the musician and
Families of those on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 are pleading authorities to reconsider their decision of the search suspension. Australia, Malaysia and China on Tuesday announced that the u
In last week’s “The Affair” Season 3, episode 8, the two ex-Mrs. Solloways met at a bar in Montauk and compared notes about their relationship with Noah (Dominic West). At one point, Helen (Maura Tie
What do firm leaders think will happen to marketing this year? To find out, I turned to CEOs who represent a variety of different industries and companies.
A magnitude 8 earthquake has hit the Solomon Islands and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says it could generate tsunami waves on nearby islands
“Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas has high hopes that a six-episode revival of the Kristen Bell-led series will happen in the future. He, however, recently admitted that he doesn’t know when exactly
It was a protest as sprawling, diverse, and ubiquitous as the platform that spawned it. The post The Women’s March Defines Protest in the Facebook Age appeared first on WIRED.
Razer's latest laptop, the Blade Pro is a beast of a machine, packing in desktop-class specifications into a laptop-sized chassis. Razer's subtle styling pairs up with a no compromise attitude to crea
Look, give me just a few minutes. I need to tell someone. Well, I screwed up. Understand, I was on edge. Maria didn't get our cups of espresso out on the veranda until a full minute after she had s
How will Kara (Melissa Benoist) and Mon-El (Chris Wood) get out of Slaver’s Moon? In a sneak peek for next week’s Season 2, episode 9 of “Supergirl,” Kara and Mon-El find themselves transported to an
They came from Colorado, they came from Arizona and they also came from the not-so-distant suburbs of Washington DC. Dozens of women wearing white lab coats joined the hundreds of thousands who descen
TOKYO (Reuters) - With mounting writedowns from its nuclear business, Japan's Toshiba Corp is looking to sell part of its core semiconductors business, a world No.2 in the flash memory chips used in s
BCG’s 11th Annual Survey underscores how the world’s most innovative companies have learned how to create entirely new business models faster than competitors, translating that speed into global scale
WASHINGTON -- They waved signs that read "Black Lives Matter: Rent a Riot" and "AIDs: Judgment or Cure?" The group of older men and women, donning all black uniforms with Psalms embroidered on their
Robots are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life, and some officials want legal protections if something goes wrong. Video provided by Newsy        
The famous ocean-liner still intrigues, even after more than a century.
Here are a few things you should know about Domain Authority. I will teach you what it is and what your business should know to increase your online Domain Authority.
Don't call it an iWatch, or if you do, at least get a cheap Apple Watch 2 thanks to recent price drops and sales.
The HTC U Ultra does almost everything wrong, according to one analyst's point of view
The very reliable iPhone leaker says the next iPhone will have facial recognition system in place for unlocking your phone
We teach students about how logarithms work but not why we should care. Here's why.
Users complaining service added them as followers to President Trump's 'POTUS' account.        
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who is currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has been showering us with the beautiful photographs of the Earth taken from space.
India and the US should collaborate more on space research programmes, a prominent scientist from the US space agency NASA stressed here on Saturday as he felicitated two young Indian astronomers who
There's some magically fattening about the special grossness of the food we get free at the office. So why can't we stay away from it? Cartoon by Ted Rall.
One of the most magnificent geologic features in the world is the Ausangate mountain of the Peruvian Andes.
Granola is the new brunch.        
Laptop touch screens are a godsend for some, useless for others. Now we have Apple's Touch Bar. Which makes more practical sense?
Every conflict needs a referee, and a philosopher from BioLogos says it's time the age-old debate between science and religion got one, too.
The political spotlight has been widely focused on President Donald Trump and his family the past few weeks as he transitioned to power Friday afternoon, but some are wondering what the Obamas will d

Recent News

32 die in Vizianagaram district as Hirakhand Express derails

In a major railway accident, 32 rail passengers died and 55 were injured, ten of them critically, when nine bogies of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express derailed near the Kuneru railway stat
Read Full Article

UP election: Akhilesh Yadav releases SP manifesto

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav today released SP manifesto; Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal were conspicuous by their absence.Akhilesh Yadav, while attacking BJP, said people
Read Full Article

Apprehensions of Jallikattu agitators unfounded: Markandey Katju

Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju today said that the apprehensions of a section of protesters seeking a “permanent solution” were unfounded as the ordinance to allow Jallikattu will be repl
Read Full Article

Taslima Nasreen slams Mamata Banerjee; calls her harsher than Left

With respect to the author's return to West Bengal, she finds the situation worse now
Read Full Article

Akhilesh releases SP manifesto; father, uncle conspicuous by their absence

Makes thinly veiled attacks on BJP, BSP
Read Full Article

SP to contest 298 seats, Congress 105

Congress to reportedly contest 105 seats and Samajwadi Party will contest in 298 seats
Read Full Article

West Brom 2 Sunderland 0 - player ratings

Two stunning strikes from Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt helped Albion ease past Sunderland 2-0 at The Hawthorns yesterday in an encouragingly routine victory. Here, Baggies report Matt Wilson rates
Read Full Article

Andy Murray beaten by Mischa Zverev at Australian Open

MIKE DICKSON IN MELBOURNE: Upsets can be contagious at Grand Slams and Andy Murray mirrored Novak Djokovic when he succumbed to a huge shock at the Australian Open.
Read Full Article

Australian Open LIVE: Evans faces Tsonga after Murray exit

Sir Andy Murray and Dan Evans are both aiming to make it through to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Follow all the action with Sportmail's MIKE DICKSON and TOM FARMERY.
Read Full Article

Popular Finance

Tito Ortiz wins 'by choke,' ends career

Tito Ortiz capped his legendary mixed-martial-arts career Saturday night with a fitting, impressive submission victory, and insisted the end is real. The Huntington Beach product reversed out of c
Read Full Article

MIDEAST STOCKS-Q4 earnings misses may pull down Saudi

DUBAI, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Weak fourth-quarter earnings at several major Saudi Arabian companies may pull down stocks in that market on Sunday, while other Gulf markets may have a moderately firm tone
Read Full Article

How well did Los Angeles work during Saturday's Women's March? Our architecture critic's report card

Women's marches live updates: Millions march in L.A. and around the world following Trump's inauguration Jan. 21, 2017, 9:11 p.m. A day after the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, million
Read Full Article

NBA roundup: Spurs edge Cavaliers in OT behind Kawhi Leonard's career-high 41 points

Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-115, in overtime Saturday night despite m
Read Full Article

Wild rally late with three goals to defeat the Ducks, 5-3

Ryan Suter, Erik Haula and Jason Zucker scored in a two-minute span late in the third period, and the Minnesota Wild rallied to beat the Anaheim Ducks, 5-3, on Saturday night.  It was the second g
Read Full Article

Short-handed Clippers put up little fight in loss to the Nuggets

The start of a harrowing stretch in which the Clippers play 10 of their next 11 games away from home began Saturday night against the Denver Nuggets. It did not end well. It was not the way the Cl
Read Full Article

O'Shea Jackson Jr., of Sundance's 'Ingrid Goes West,' gives advice on posting to social media

Sundance 2017 updates: The Women's Protest March descends on Park City Jan. 21, 2017, 9:38 p.m. Many of the attendees of the Sundance Film Festival are sharing in the national protest movement and
Read Full Article

On the cutting-room floor of the L.A. Times Sundance photo studio

Sundance 2017 updates: The Women's Protest March descends on Park City Jan. 21, 2017, 9:38 p.m. Many of the attendees of the Sundance Film Festival are sharing in the national protest movement and
Read Full Article

Venus Williams advances to Aussie Open quarters

Venus Williams has returned to the quarterfinals for the ninth time at the Australian Open, where she first made the last eight on debut in 1998.  The 36-year-old, seven-time major winner had a 6-
Read Full Article