New Horizons returned some amazingly detailed shots and data of Pluto over the course of its mission — but just what did it have to fly through to get there? So, so much strangeness.
NASA put together this visualisation of what the spacecraft encountered between January and August on its way to Pluto. The list includes a series of punishing solar winds, but even more curious were some very oddly behaving particle clouds.
Better known as coronal mass ejections, we see those same particle clouds around the Earth. What surprised scientists, though, was that as they reached Pluto, the clouds didn’t have their characteristic “balloon shape” anymore. Instead, they spread out into the thin, arching ring shapes you see below.
So what is this interstellar weather report, besides a trippy look at what’s going on between the planets? It’s got a lot of potential to help us figure out longer space journeys, perhaps someday even a piloted one. One of the big impediments to travelling further out into space is getting spacecraft that can withstand the radiation and pressure. By getting a better idea of what they’re facing, scientists will also have a better idea of just what they’ll need to build to get through it.