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ESC & Kevin Bacon meet New Horizons & Pluto

I'm often asked why, in this era of the Internet, anyone should spend the time and money to physically attend a conference when so much information is available on the web. For myself, I think the answer is obvious — when you attend a conference, you get to meet other engineers and representatives from component and tool vendors, equipment manufacturers, and service providers.

As an engineer, I don’t think you can overstate the advantages of networking furiously with others who are working in the same area so you can bounce ideas around; it's also advantageous to meet people working in complementary fields — say wireless mesh networks — and add them to your list of potential resources.

There's a theory known as the Six degrees of Separation that proposes everyone is six or fewer steps away — by way of introduction — from any other person in the world. To put this another way, a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people on the planet in a maximum of six steps. (In the case of the related Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon , there's a similar theory that any individual involved in the film industry can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps.)

But why am I waffling on about this here? Well, let's take the New Horizons interplanetary space probe, which was launched in 2006 as a part of NASA's New Frontiers program.

The New Horizons interplanetary space probe (courtesy NASA).

The New Horizons interplanetary space probe (courtesy NASA).

On 14 July 2015, New Horizons became the first spacecraft to fly-by Pluto, which is about one-sixth the mass of the Moon and one-third its volume. Personally, it blows my mind to think that we can send a piano-size spacecraft travelling for nine years and over three billion miles and get it close enough to a dwarf planet only 1,474 miles (2,372 kilometers) in diameter to take the mind-numbingly beautiful images seen below. (It also amazes me that we managed to avoid crashing into Pluto or one of its moons.)

This high-resolution image of Pluto shows incredible levels of detail (courtesy NASA).

This high-resolution image of Pluto shows incredible levels of detail (courtesy NASA).

What do you think the chances are that you know someone who knows someone (just two degrees of separation) who designed some of the imaging sensors used on New Horizons ? Well, you know me, and I do know that someone, so there you are!

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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