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
Following an emergency decision to move to Amazon Web Services, Iceland’s Wow Air has wholeheartedly bought into the cloud
Just as quickly as the Chicago Bulls took a 2-0 series lead in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, the Boston Celtics won two straight road games and tied the series at 2-2. Heading into Game 5
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 flagship phone won the hearts of many consumers not only because of its innovative design, but also due to its powerful performance. However, it appears Tim Cook’s company is work
It’s been a rough week for “Dancing With the Stars” pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy. In addition to getting sent home in Season 24, Week 6 on the ABC show, the home he shares with fiancée Peta Murgatroyd was
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has plans to provide credit services in Brazil, Jack Ma, the company's executive chairman, was quoted as saying in Wednesday's edition of O Estado de S
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has protested to Twitter over restricting the government's access to data, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday.
Smartphone technology is undergoing an evolution with introduction of features such as an edge-to-edge display and a 10nm processor. But there is one trend from 2016 that is becoming increasingly pop
First-quarter revenue, earnings above Wall Street forecasts.        
It’s time to get out your calendars and make a note of when your favorite shows are airing their season finales. ABC announced Tuesday the season finale (and possibly series finale for some) dates of
From providing door-to-door navigations to alerting you of impending traffic, Google Maps is nothing short of a miracle in a millennial's life? But how does it really work? Here's the real science beh
President Donald Trump's proposed budget, if approved, will defund several welfare organizations and programs including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment of Humanities and U.S.
Western companies need to get more innovative to keep up with Asia’s mobile payments leaders.
With the continued growth of mobile devices, advertisers need to adopt a mobile first mindset.
There are any number of ways fraud merchants can swindle you through Bitcoin transactions. Here's how to avoid trouble.
“Prison Break” Season 5 has turned grim and dark. As the new season continues its run, viewers can expect more deaths along the way. In the recent episode titled, “The Prisoner’s Dilemma,” fans were
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is expected to make its first of 22 passes between Saturn and its rings Wednesday.         
“Dirty Dancing” will soon grace the small screen. A month short of its debut, ABC released its trailer to give viewers a glimpse of what to expect in its upcoming TV series. On Tuesday, ABC released
Edinburgh University experts say nanoparticles can travel from the lungs into the bloodstream and reach the cardiovascular system where they increase the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke.
The company's three-day "Elevate" summit is meant to discuss all things relating to vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) craft.
"Teen Mom 2" star Kailyn Lowry talked about the "not so fun part of pregnancy" in a new tweet Tuesday, while the mystery surrounding the identity of the father of her third baby continues. Recently,
Digital 'fingerprinting' on phones is a practice that's risen into the public eye after a report on Uber.        
Do you want to live in a world where the CEO of Apple has the ability to effectively shut down any web service at any point in its life cycle that tries to think different?
FirstEnergy’s competitive energy businesses are getting swallowed up by the markets and the company has chosen instead to focus on its regulated delivery systems. Other coal-heavy utilities, though, a
Here's what the first 100 days of the Trump administration means for your student loans.
The microblogging service said average monthly active users increased 6 percent to 328 million in the first quarter from a year earlier.
Google Maps users may now use the mapping app to check where they parked their cars. Google has already brought the anticipated Save Your Parking feature to both Android and iOS versions of the app. 
Mevo is a great tool for live broadcasts, enhanced by some new updates.        
Rural tech companies don't have the same advantages as Silicon Valley -- and that's why H-1B immigration is so vital to their existence.
National Pretzel Day is celebrated all around the country every year on April 26 since 1983. Robert S. Walker, the then representative of Pennsylvania, wanted to have a special holiday for his favori
National Union of Students elects black, single mother as its leader, ousting Malia Bouattia.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) will be holding free training for those interested in the field of cyber security ahead of its AppSec Europe 2017 conference.
Hollywood actor Jesse Williams is divorcing wife Aryn Drake-Lee Williams after five years of being married, and some online reports are suggesting this as the aftermath of the “Grey’s Anatomy” star’s
It’s here: The first look of the second half of “Shadowhunters’” second season. The official promo of Season 2B was released by Freeform and it offers the first glimpse of a new and intriguing charac
The first of the spacecraft's 22 deep dives between Saturn and its innermost ring has begun. Communications with the small craft have gone dark until Thursday morning.

Recent News

Turkey rounds up over 1,000 'secret imams'

Turkish police launch simultaneous operations across the country, detaining more than 1,000 people with suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethulla
Read Full Article

Buzz Aldrin wants to serve as a 'strong adviser' in US mission to reach Mars

The astronaut met with Vice President Mike Pence last month.
Read Full Article

Marine Le Pen hijacks Emmanuel Macron campaign visit to factory

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has upstaged opponent Emmanuel Macron by making a surprise campaign stop to a home appliance factory.
Read Full Article

BBC drama-documentary to lay bare ’betrayals and blunders’ of 2016 UK Tory leadership campaign

The programme will air after the General Election and feature interviews with those involved in the campaigns jockeying for power.
Read Full Article

Opposition group to challenge result of Turkish referendum at European court

Turkey's main opposition party is to challenge the outcome of the country's April 16 referendum on expanding presidential powers at the European Court of Human Rights.
Read Full Article

How does the ’action plan’ compare with the first 100 day reality for Donald Trump?

US President Donald Trump promised to start work on a host of major reforms "immediately" upon taking office as US president.
Read Full Article

Donald Trump planning 'the biggest tax cut in US history'

President Donald Trump's tax plan will amount to "the biggest tax cut" and the "largest tax reform" in US history, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Read Full Article

Turkey detains 1,000 in new anti-Gulen crackdown

Turkey on Wednesday detained over 1,000 alleged supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, the biggest crackdown since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s victory in a referendum on ramping u
Read Full Article

French presidential elections: Will vote for Emmanuel Macron, says Nicolas Sarkozy

French conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday he would vote for centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Read Full Article

Popular Finance

Policy to prefer locally-made goods in govt buying on anvil

The commerce and industry ministry is working on fixing the nuts and bolts of a policy to give preference to domestically manufactured goods in government procurement with a view to promoting Make i
Read Full Article

After 13 years at Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ready for grand finale

What do you do with a 20-year-old spacecraft that has spent 13 years orbiting Saturn, logged 4.1 billion miles in space and is about to run out of fuel? You could crash it into one of the dozens o
Read Full Article

Today: Pop Quiz: What Has Trump Accomplished?

What has President Trump accomplished so far? I'm Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times. Here are some story lines I don't want you to miss today. TOP STORIES Pop Quiz: What Has
Read Full Article

Higher graduation rates sound good, but what do they really tell us?

State schools Supt. Tom Torlakson had some good news this month about California schools: The high school graduation rate rose to 83%, up 8.5 percentage points since 2010. That means brighter pros
Read Full Article

NHL Playoffs: A look and a prediction for each series

Four of the seven teams that had the best regular-season records were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, as Chicago, Minnesota and Montreal were upset and Columbus (108 poi
Read Full Article

A scathing UC audit, Plan B in a college vending machine, integration by school choice: What's new in education today

Read Full Article

Hunter Greene won't pitch the rest of the season

Read Full Article

Police still looking for handgun used in deadly Fresno shootings

A handgun used to fatally shoot three men last week in downtown Fresno is still missing, authorities said. Fresno Police Lt. Mark Hudson said detectives are still searching for a man who they beli
Read Full Article

Venture capital enthusiasm for fintech startups shifts to Europe

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Venture capital investments in financial services startups are showing a geographical split, with funding for so-called "fintech" companies in the United States cooling but..
Read Full Article