With the Pluto flyby complete, here's what's next for NASA's New Horizons

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Jul 20, 2015, 8:25 PM EDT (Updated)

We all geeked out last week over the first good photos of Pluto, but what comes next for the tough little probe that flew 3 billion miles to get us those shots? Good question.

After traveling all that way, NASA’s New Horizons probe turned its cameras on Pluto and got some awesome photos that scientists will be poring over for years to come. Now that the probe is barreling past Pluto, NASA researchers are taking advantage of the angle to get some shots of the planet’s dark side and some additional data. After that, the probe will spend the next year or so sending back all that info.

According to Space, data transfer is extremely slow across this great distance (2 kilobytes per second, which makes a 56K modem seem downright speedy), so they’ve been working to compress data to get it back to the Earth a little faster. Regardless, we’re still talking about 50 gigabits of information, and New Horizons has only sent back approximately 2 percent of that. It’ll take a couple months to get all the data compressed for transmission, and NASA expects to finally have all the info sent back by late 2016.

After that, New Horizons plans to keep on trucking into the Kuiper Belt, and they’re already looking at some potential targets to fly by once it gets there around 2019. NASA has narrowed down the list to two bodies in the Kuiper Belt: 2014 MU69 and 2014 PN70, both of which are approximately 1 billion miles past Pluto. Those bodies are several dozen miles wide, and the extended mission could give us some fresh intel on what future space explorers will find at the far edge of our solar system. Hey, it costs a lot of money and time to get tech that far into space, so might as well take advantage while it's there.

Pluto might be in the rearview mirror, but the mission is far from over.

(Via Space)