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
The new study claims that an 'evolutionary jump' after the most recent ice age caused the to become giants simply so they could eat more krill.
Researchers from Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt looked at the migration of zebras from the Okavango Delta, Botswana to the Makgadikgadi grasslands.
Samsung’s QLED TV range offers a cinema-quality experience from the comfort of your living room.
Scientists at the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer found adding 11cm to the waistline increases the risk of developing a group of obesity-linked cancers by 13 per cent.
Nintendo and Ubisoft’s iconic characters are teaming up in what has to be one of the strangest crossover events ever.
Apple announced Monday evening it received a declassified National Security Letter from the U.S. government, the first such instance of the typically secret demands sent by law enforcement agencies.
Traditionally, Boy Scouts were trained in fire and knife skills, preparing them to be ready for outdoor adventures. Along the way, they also learned how to be good stewards of the wilderness, to safe
For Xbox Live Gold subscribers, June’s free roster of games is anchored around a mix of major flagship franchise titles and indie options. Microsoft confirmed that June’s Xbox Live Games With Gold pr
The bright pink birds were thought to adopt their iconic pose to take weight off a leg or to conserve body heat. But a study shows they may simply do it because it is easier to stand that way.
Apple appears to be in the very early stages of readying a 5G-capable iPhone.        
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Electronic device makers such as Hong Kong-listed SUGA and other start-ups are looking to cash-in on a boom in China in so-called pet wearables, like smart collars, leashes and
A new dating app lets people search for sperm and egg donors, surrogate mothers and lovers.
Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones swaps his smartphone for the retro Nokia 3310 for a day.
Astronaut Peggy Whitson on Tuesday repaired a critical International Space Station system during a nearly three-hour spacewalk that moved her into second place on NASA’s career list for most spacewalk
Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City monitored social interactions in a captive colony of around 30 marked common vampire bats.
function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commer
Although the world is still awaiting Apple's iPhone 8, rumors of its 2018 handset have hit the web. A report revealed the iPhone9 will boast an OLED screen available in two sizes - 5.28-inch and 6.4
The real-time enhancement will allow users to create glamorous live-streams
The first of the many wondrous artefacts found in Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun's tomb were transported carefully through Cairo's streets on Tuesday to their new home near the Giza Pyramids.
The robot works by slipping under the car, lifting it gently by the wheels and parking it in a secured area. The system is already being used at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France.
A group of hackers was able to defeat the iris scanner in the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone using relatively common supplies, creating concerns that biometric logins may not be as foolproof a securit
Apple may be expanding the iPhone's bandwidth as the tech giant looks to test 5G technology.
Google Jamboard is available now for a price that's still less than Microsoft Surface Hub.
Get the most out of your Samsung Smart TV with our choice of the top apps.
China has revised its endgame from pressuring Japan to cede control of the Senkaku Islands. Now it wants to keep up pressure on Japan for a patriotic home audience and someday win a minor concession.
Mark Hall, a spokesman for recycling firm BusinessWaste, said: ‘A plastic straw has a lifespan of around 20 minutes, and then it’s thrown away.' He called for a 5p plastic straw tax.
Pilots who fly for Amazon’s Prime Air cargo planes staged a protest at the company’s annual shareholders meeting Tuesday over short-staffing and poor working conditions. The pilots are employed by At
Some of the false victims were YouTube creators, later identified as nowhere near Manchester.        
function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commer
Chinese drone maker DJI has announced that its customers must activate their drones on its website in order to receive necessary information and functions to operate the craft properly.
Intel Extreme Masters, one of the oldest esports events currently running, has announced it will no longer feature League Of Legends. The tournament series started in 2011 and helped develop the L
The dominant messaging app in Japan is known for its stickers, and soon, artificial intelligence named Clova.        
Marie-Christine Osselin, wine quality manager at Moët & Chandon, said that while champagne and other fizzy wines are fine to sit in the fridge for up to four days, any longer could affect the qualit
A San Francisco man aboard an Asiana Airlines flight claims he was discriminated against and forced to vacate his seat because of his prosthetic leg. During the confrontation, a flight attendant alle

Recent News

Calvin Johnson visits Oakland Raiders camp, but he's not un-retiring

Johnson is helping out Raiders receivers this week as a guest of Oakland offensive coordinator Todd Downing, a former Lions assistant        
Read Full Article

Recruiting: Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Jalen Mayfield commits to Michigan football

No. 6 player in the state of Michigan in the 247Sports Composite rankings had originally committed to P.J. Fleck at Minnesota        
Read Full Article

To Michael Jordan worshippers and LeBron James haters: MJ had bad games too!

LeBron James isn't just fighting the Golden State Warriors; he's fighting the cult of Michael Jordan, too        
Read Full Article

Why Chocolate May Be Good for the Heart

Eating chocolate may lower the risk for atrial fibrillation, the irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke and heart failure.
Read Full Article

Greene locks in with a little help from his friends

An unsolicited tip from two of his longtime buddies from Clermont, Florida. helped turn his season around.        
Read Full Article

Trieu: New Michigan commit Jalen Mayfield ‘finishes plays’

Michigan filled an important need in its 2018 recruiting class on Tuesday when Grand Rapids Catholic Central offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield announced his commitment to the Wolverines.   
Read Full Article

Brazil appeals court rules Uber driver not entitled to benefits

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A Brazil appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a driver working for Uber via its ride-hailing app is not an employee of the San Francisco-based company and therefore not entitled t
Read Full Article

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will return to UCLA next season

UCLA received a double dose of welcome news Tuesday regarding the NBA draft: Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday are withdrawing their names from consideration. Welsh announced on Twitter that he would
Read Full Article

Rams quarterback Jared Goff is growing on and off the field

He is listed on the roster at 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds. But Rams quarterback Jared Goff began organized team activities this week larger if not taller. Goff said he had gained five to 10 pounds. “E
Read Full Article

Popular Finance

California schools chief gives Trump budget an 'F'

Read Full Article

Intelligence showed contacts between Moscow and Trump campaign last summer, former CIA chief says

The CIA received intelligence last summer indicating Donald Trump’s campaign aides were in contact with Russian government officials, information that was worrisome enough to pass to the FBI for i
Read Full Article

A convicted coal executive is still trying to dodge blame for the deaths of 29 miners

In the annals of executive chutzpah, one would be hard-pressed to find a more extreme case than Don Blankenship’s efforts to vindicate himself for his role in a huge mine disaster. Blankenship was
Read Full Article

Sean Hannity says 'liberal fascism' is behind efforts to get him fired over Seth Rich story

Fox News and conservative talk show host Sean Hannity are under fire Tuesday for pushing a right-wing conspiracy theory that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich may have been killed be
Read Full Article

Trump's budget relies on rosy forecasts and proposes deep cuts to anti-poverty programs

View note View note Russia May 23, 2017, 7:59 a.m. Former CIA chief John Brennan on classified intelligence leaks: 'I find them appalling and they need to be tracked down'   What I was very concer
Read Full Article

Proposed budget would deeply cut State Department and its programs

Read Full Article

Elisabeth Moss and BBC America join forces for Typhoid Mary limited series

Read Full Article

State lawmakers and advocates for the poor warn that Trump’s budget will hit hard for California's most vulnerable

President Trump’s proposed budget would likely result in billions of dollars of cuts to vital health and human services programs in California, state Democratic lawmakers and advocates for the poo
Read Full Article

Defense engineer pleads guilty after trying to forge 'The Americans'-type pact with phony Russian spy

An engineer working for a defense contractor pleaded guilty to selling sensitive satellite information to an undercover FBI agent he thought was a Russian spy, federal officials say.
Read Full Article