back to article New Horizons: We've got a pretty pic of Pluto. Now let's get our SCIENCE on

With everyone going ape over the dazzling new crisp pictures from NASA's New Horizons probe of the dwarf freezeworld Pluto, there are few voices asking if it was worth sending out a space probe to the far end of the Solar System – but it wasn't always that way. Pluto The eighth dwarf ... Very latest snap of Pluto from New …

  1. Kaltern

    It's exciting,

    but is does appear to just be a smooth ball of rock.

    Not even anything interesting to conspire about...

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: It's exciting,

      On the contrary, there's lots for those who look:

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        What a retrograde planet

        I can't believe it still uses a barrel plug for charging. Get with the USB program Pluto!

    2. Kaltern

      Re: It's exciting,

      Oh cmon,I was obviously jesting - did that really warrant a downvote? pfft.

  2. HighHo

    Maybe a little sad but I will be staying up passed my bedtime just to await confirmation the pass was (hopefully) successful!

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Not sad at all. It means you're capable of feeling excitement and interest about someone else's quest for knowledge and that you feel there is something more important that your immediate physical comfort. Congratulations, it means you're human; have another one.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flirting with a circular justification

    I'm as giddy as a schoolboy over this mission (too young for Apollo, Viking and Voyager so this is the first mission and likely only mission I've seen to a virgin planet - spatia incognita), but I don't think it's value should be proclaimed through "New components had to be developed, materials that will be very useful for future space missions." If somebody thinks this mission is a waste of money then you won't change their mind by telling them that the real benefit is piloting for other such missions.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Flirting with a circular justification

      Shoot, *I'm* as giddy as a schoolboy over this mission and I *saw* Apollo, Viking and Voyager. New discovery is always extremely exciting.

      Hell, I'm happy to see new pics from Curiosity as it's always a chunk of Mars we haven't seen yet.

    2. Shrimpling

      Re: Flirting with a circular justification

      Did you not see the photos of Ceres earlier this year?

      It was a planet before Pluto was and everybody just forgets it. Poor Ceres.

  4. FozzyBear Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The new pic of pluto is a thing of beauty

  5. Captain DaFt

    Well, DUH!

    "there were naysayers bemoaning the cost of such a mission ($700m, since you asked)."

    That seven hundred million could have paid for nearly a full second of bombing the crap out of... er, Bringing Democracy to some oil rich country that ignored the US when it called dibs.

  6. iLuddite

    on target

    3 billion miles. I will never, ever play darts against space probe folks. Might as well just offer up the pint now.

    1. Rabbit80

      Re: on target

      Not only 3 billion miles, but against moving targets so far away that any observations we can make will be of the planet where it was roughly 5 hours ago (made even more difficult by its wonky orbit).. In which time, it will have moved over 50,000 miles.. By the time we get a signal back to the probe, the planet would be well over 100,000 miles from where we saw it!

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        Re: on target

        Plus, when they launched the probe, they didn't have an accurate size for the (dwarf) planet. Aimimg for something that small, that far away, and you're not 100% sure of its size? You'd be mad to try!

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: on target

      Then there's of course that mental image of a puzzled space probe engineer fiddling with a dart - "I don't get it. How do you make course corrections with this once you throw it?!?"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: on target

      And considering we still have not known and observed Pluto for even a third of it's estimated orbital year so cannot say exactly where it would be at anytime in the future

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: on target

      If only the US military could have even 1/100th that precision, "friendly fire" casualties would be drastically reduced

      1. ciaran

        Re: on target

        Casualties do not come from inaccurate wepons - at least not any more.

        Today casualties are almost always from incorrect information - firing on the wedding party because you've assumed that only terrorists would group together at that place and time.

        Incidentally, that's not supposed to happen according to the Geneva conventions, which makes each mistake a war crime...

  7. Graham Marsden

    "we'd still be roaming the plains of Earth as just another primate"

    "And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans."

    1. Michael Thibault

      Re: "we'd still be roaming the plains of Earth as just another primate"

      If we'd never made it to the trees, we likely would never have become mammals. Still, there's so much to see at the beach; the drive to go back is, understandably, primal.

    2. The last doughnut
      Thumb Up

      Re: "we'd still be roaming the plains of Earth as just another primate"

      If you have never roamed the plains of Earth as just another primate, you really should give it a try.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        No thanks

        I've heard about bush meat.

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge

    We should buy the New Horizon's folks one...

    Everyone involved deserves all the celebratory beers they can consume... It's beyond amazing to me. Just wow...

  9. ManFromOz

    moon discovery?

    "it now seems that Pluto's moons were formed in much the same way as ours were"

    We have moons?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We have moons?

      Having watched episodes of QI, the panel show which has covered the subject several times, I now have no idea how many moons we have. One? More than one? None? :-)

      I await the "P" series in a few years time, which will no doubt leave us all more confused about Pluto than ever (although suitably entertained, I hope).

  10. fortran

    Deep Space Network?

    New Horizons and Philae/Rosetta are both pointing at problems with the "deep space network", and I think Dawn is where part of the answer lies.

    A long time ago, UHouston had a robot which could roll across simulated lunar regolith and turn the surface into solar cells. Not very good ones, but there is so much "dry" real estate on the Moon compared to Earth it wouldn't matter. I believe a small amount of iron was recovered (removed) from the regolith, and that could be used for electrical interconnects (with 0 toughness during lunar night).

    Ceres is quite a bit further from the Sun than Mars is, but it is still a whole pile of dry real estate.

    Land at either pole, and have some robot set up solar cells on the surface to provide power. Probably a person needs to set up microwave and visible dishes in space close to Ceres, to receive signals from the amplitude challenged sources it needs to relay for. Have high amplitude laser and microwave antenna on Ceres, to send data to remote locations. Have a high intensity UV laser on Ceres that is tightly collimated. Lose a lander again, illuminate the target with UV and design parts of the lander to be fluorescent. Maybe just a big mirror (in space) is all that is needed?

    I think you need to then setup receiving stations near both poles of the Moon, who can pass data back to Earth.

    It may be convenient to place communications satellites in other places. But relays at the Moon and Ceres potentially allow for large power budgets, as there is so much area available to put solar cells on.

    How long does a solar cell last on Ceres or the Moon? I haven't a clue.

    I still think Philae's last hop found one of those sinkholes, either not yet ready to cave in or just starting to.

  11. Tromos
    Thumb Up

    NH has phoned home

    And now for some great pictures to start coming back. This is science at its best and together with reams of LHC data we can look forward to new and interesting insights into what makes things tick.

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: NH has phoned home

      The most important question has been answered: an exogorth cannot catch a probe travelling at 16 km/s.

  12. dan1980

    $700m is not pocket change.

    Well, unless you are the US military, in which case you could launch 21 New Horizons missions* each year and STILL be spending more on defence than the next NINE countries PUT TOGETHER.

    I'm not saying that defence is not a worthy area of spending, but when you are out-spending the next nearest nation by a factor of 3-4 then you can probably slice off a little and still be an effective force.

    And not that NASA doesn't get a good amount of money either, but when they have to pull out of or delay well-researched, well-planned, scientifically-sound operations due to lack of funds, while money gets poured down the F-35 black hole, well, you can't help but feel that priorities and accountability are messed up.

    * - Though the work done would mean subsequent missions would be cheaper, of course, we'll use 21 x $700m.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      > but when you are out-spending the next nearest nation by a factor of 3-4 then you can probably slice off a little and still be an effective force.

      Unless of course, you're conducting more wars by a factor of 3-4, than your nearest neighbour.

      1. dan1980



    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "while money gets poured down the F-35 black hole"

      Isn't that sufficiently physics research for you? Soon we will be able to study an event horizon right here on Earth, with Lockheed-Martin at its centre.

      It's long been noticed that very little information escapes large military projects.

  13. ian 22

    American exceptionalism?

    Now the USAians have visited all of the traditional planets, the only ones to do so. Is that exceptional, and if not, why not? Essay answer, please.

    1. dan1980

      Re: American exceptionalism?

      Well, large team of clever and dedicated individuals across several decades have achieved these feats.

      But remember that, while everyone working at NASA is required to be a US citizen, not all of them were born in the US. In addition, NASA doesn't build - or even operate - all the vehicles and probes by themselves and make use of numerous contract organisations, where there will indeed be foreign nationals working.

      Also, they are of course building on scientific work from numerous people of many different nationalities.

      Not that this isn't very impressive indeed and not that we shouldn't be thankful for the US ponying up the cash to make this happen.

      It is exceptional indeed, but it certainly wasn't achieved in some kind of isolation from the rest of the world.

    2. Jedit

      "Is that exceptional, and if not, why not?"

      "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" - Isaac Newton

  14. Neoc

    Gentle Giants?

    I await photos of the grave-sites of the Ganymedean Giants.

  15. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    That's all. Except for the large helping of kudos on the side.

  16. mix
    Thumb Down

    Dwarf planet?

    Is that why we are a solar system of 8 planets now? Bit size-ist.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Dwarf planet?

      Bigendian a bit sooner?

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Dwarf planet?

      Should that be bite-sized...or to be pedantic.. byte-sized?

  17. Paul Kinsler

    Are you worried by space probes pictured at the wrong angle for your eyes?

    ... if you think so, look here:

    load 'em up and rotate to your heart's content. There's one of New Horizons...

  18. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    A breath of fresh... Oh.

    With all the doom and gloom these day, it is so refreshing to read about people actually expanding boundaries, and gaining new insights.

    Wish I could have a thumbs up AND a beer icon.

    1. The last doughnut

      Re: A breath of fresh... Oh.

      Have one on me, chap.

  19. Killing Time

    Pluto's old news....

    NH is a million km plus past the Pluto system already. It's now on to the Kuiper belt and beyond, No reason why the data won't get back, now that the potential debris field has been cleared. There is more to see with working instruments and a big fat RTG on board.

    From my early boyhood to my (now) late,late late boyhood, space discovery events like these have been an undiminished source of anticipation and fascination. Long may it continue into my old boyhood.

    Congratulations to everyone involve.

    P.S there is a Sky at Night special on Monday apparently

  20. Benchops

    "Consider the distances involved. NASA threw a probe over three billion miles through the Solar System, using the gravity from our largest planet to get it up to speed, and has now slung it past Pluto so close that it's less than an Earth-width distance away. Its relatively puny thrusters have given fine tuning abilities, but the mechanics of such a feat are immensely complex."

    Yeah yeah, we get it. It /is/ rocket science.

    Also... "Pluto could harbor extraterrestrial surprises". Whereas a terrestrial surprise, well.. that really /would/ be a surprise!

  21. Queasy Rider

    Same tired old reasons

    "because it's there and humans are endlessly inquisitive. If we weren't, we'd still be roaming the plains of Earth as just another primate."

    No actually, some humans are endlessly inquisitive, and most boffins are, especially if others are paying. I'm not denying that I'm only able to be typing this because previous apes were inquisitive and I'm reaping the assumed benefits, and therefore I support science spending unreservedly. But my neighbor down the river lives for the pleasure of fishing, only works for that Friday pay envelope to fund his latest gear, and would rather see all that science research money going into stocking the river, and maybe cleaning it up a bit. And I understand and slightly respect that point of view. Just don't tell me that humans are endlessly inquisitive. Some are but most aren't. I gag every time I hear those hollow words.

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